NEW YORK -- For New York Knicks guard Derek Harper, the routine the past week was getting downright tiring. Again and again, he watched tapes of New Jersey Nets guard Kenny Anderson, who guided his team to four victories in five games against the Knicks this season.
"I got sick and tired of watching those tapes," Harper said. "But overall, I think it helped."
Give Harper an "A" in his course on film breakdown, as he was instrumental in holding Anderson to just 13 points and six assists in New York's 91-80 win over the Nets in the first game of their best-of-five series last night at Madison Square Garden.
Patrick Ewing scored 25 points and Charles Smith came off the bench to add 17 for New York, which began its quest to reach the Eastern Conference final for the second straight year.
Derrick Coleman's 27 points led the Nets, several of whom were vocal in predicting a win in the series against their cross-river rivals.
That will not happen if Anderson continues to struggle. The All-Star guard had averaged 19.4 points and 8.2 assists in the regular season against New York.
But last night he was ineffective, making just three of 11 shots. There were times you didn't even know he was on the court, which is surprising when you consider he was the only player to play all 48 minutes.
"They played tough defense on us all night," said Anderson, who had just two points and two assists in the first half. "It was very tough for me to get a shot off or a good look at the basket. They played good team defense and did what they had to do down the stretch to get the job done."
The player doing the most down the stretch for the Knicks was Smith, who scored 11 of his points in the final quarter. A year ago Smith wasn't ready for prime time, missing easy scoring opportunities in the closing seconds of the conference final against the Chicago Bulls. The home fans have not let him forget.
But last night it was Smith, with strong moves to the basket, turning jeers into cheers.
"I'm not over-excited about the performance -- I've played like that before," said Smith, who made seven of 10 shots. "It's kind of tough to get going when you get shots sporadically. I had them in succession [last night], and that's when you start to get a certain flow going."
It's funny that Smith mentioned a flow in a game that, until the Knicks began to pull away in the final quarter, was pretty ugly to watch. New York had a 35-33 lead at the half, which is a quarter score for many NBA games.
But the Knicks, with the NBA's best defense, win ugly. And generally when they keep an opponent under 100 points, they win.
The Nets scored their 80 points on 36.6 percent shooting. And still New Jersey was in the game, taking a 68-64 lead after Anderson made a jumper with 8:57 left. But the Knicks ran off the next 10 points -- starting with a three-point play by Ewing and ending with a three-pointer from the top of the key by Greg Anthony -- to take a 74-68 lead.
Smith and Ewing scored 22 of New York's 28 fourth-quarter points (Anthony, with two three-pointers, accounted for the other six). It was Smith's strong layup during that 10-0 run that put the Knicks ahead for good. His 11 fourth-quarter points came in the last 8:42.
"[Smith] made some big, big plays," Knicks coach Pat Riley said. "He had a lot of energy."
Others played well, too. Harper scored 14 points and Hubert Davis had 11 in a game in which John Starks returned. The All-Star guard, who had knee surgery in March, scored two points in nine minutes before leaving in the first half after taking a spill on his back.
For the Nets, Coleman made just one of eight shots in the second half (a three-pointer in the closing seconds). Reserve forward Armon Gilliam (12 points, four of six) was the only New Jersey player to shoot better than 50 percent.
It all added up to a Game 1 win for the Knicks, who are hoping the road to the NBA Finals passes through Madison Square Garden.
But there was no real celebratory mood for the Knicks, who understand that what they want to accomplish is a long way away.
"We want to forget about [last night]," Riley said. "We have to get our mind set to Sunday. They'll make some adjustments. It's going to be a lot more wide open than it was [in Game 1]."