CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The New York Knicks are taking the necessary steps to advance to the Eastern Conference final for the first time in 20 years -- winning -- but they are painstaking, nerve-racking steps. Not completely steady, downright shaky at times, but ultimately good enough.
In the end yesterday at Charlotte Coliseum, the Knicks' 94-92 victory was produced by a dramatic 20-foot jump shot by Rolando Blackman with 5.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Muggsy Bogues' turnover on the ensuing possession sealed the outcome with two-tenths of a second left.
The Knicks placed the Hornets one game from extinction, having taken a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series, but they had to recover from another case of late-game ineffectiveness to do it.
"It was just a great escape for us," New York coach Pat Riley said. "We can't be pleased at all. Even though we won the game, how we handled their pressure and the way we handled things down the stretch leaves a lot to be desired if we plan on advancing."
The Knicks can move on to face the winner of the Chicago-Cleveland series -- which Chicago leads 3-0 and can close out tonight in Richfield, Ohio -- if they win Game 5 at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. But the youthful and athletic Hornets promise to not go quietly.
Said Charlotte center Alonzo Mourning, held to 4-for-16 shooting against Patrick Ewing and reserve Herb Williams: "It's not going to be easy. We have to win three in a row now. We're going to compete. It's not impossible."
It looked improbable for the Hornets when the Knicks opened a 66-51 lead early in the third quarter and not too promising when the Knicks led 92-86 with 3:09 left in the game. However, Charlotte's full-court pressure began to rattle the Knicks, who became passive against it instead of attacking. Larry Johnson completed a 6-0 run with a jump shot over Anthony Mason with 28.2 seconds to go to even the score at 92.
After a timeout, John Starks milked the shot clock to eight seconds before passing to rookie Hubert Davis on the left wing. Davis looked to get it to Ewing, but Kendall Gill and Mourning put Ewing in a Hornets sandwich. With no other recourse, Davis drove to the middle of the court and dished to Blackman, who had not played in the previous 17 minutes.
"I was just trying to concentrate," Blackman said. "I knew there was a guy not too far from me. But there was not much time left to do anything but shoot."
With one second left on the shot clock and 5.4 on the game clock, the ball fell through the basket, making it 94-92 as Knicks notched their only points of the last 3:09.
Charlotte had only a 20-second timeout left -- a blunder by coach Allan Bristow because with a full timeout they could have advanced the ball to midcourt. But they had used their allotment, so the Hornets wasted 1 1/2 seconds getting the ball to midcourt before calling the "20" with 3.9 ticks left.
Bogues received the ball against Davis, drove left and lost it. Ewing picked it up with .2 left to secure matters.
"I was driving and I just lost it," Bogues said. "It may have hit Patrick's foot. I don't know."