Oakley steps in, puts Knicks in command


NEW YORK -- As New York Knicks forward Charles Oakley was getting ready for yesterday's game against the New Jersey Nets, teammate Anthony Bonner offered words of encouragement.

"AB said I need 20/20 tonight," Oakley said. "I didn't know what he was talking about. I thought he was talking about Barbara Walters' show."

Bonner meant 20 points and 20 rebounds, and Oakley -- rising to the occasion after the second-quarter ejection of center Patrick Ewing -- delivered just that and more in yesterday's 90-81 win that gave the Knicks a 2-0 advantage in their best-of-five, first-round NBA playoff series.

Oakley scored 25 points and grabbed a playoff-career-high 24 rebounds, putting the Knicks on the verge of a sweep of their cross-river rivals. The series shifts to Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., for Game 3 on Wednesday.

As was the case in the Knicks' Game 1 victory Friday, it was New York's suffocating defense that set the tone. The Nets made just 21 field goals, an NBA record low since the inception of the shot clock. (The old record of 22 was set by the St. Louis Hawks in 1956.) New Jersey tied its playoff low for points in a half (33, set Friday) and shot just 29.2 percent.

"You're not going to win many basketball games shooting that percentage," Nets coach Chuck Daly said. "We had an opportunity if we would have come up with any combination of back-to-back baskets, which we couldn't do."

None of the New Jersey starters shot more than 50 percent. Kenny Anderson scored 21 points, but shot six of 15. Both Derrick Coleman and Chris Morris had 15 points, but shot four of 17 and four of 14, respectively. The New Jersey starters, in 174 minutes, made a combined 18 field goals. Oakley and Ewing had 15 field goals for the Knicks in 61 minutes.

Ewing wasn't around after his automatic ejection in the second quarter for his second technical foul after a collision with Coleman. Replays showed that Ewing was running up the court as Coleman drove his shoulder into Ewing's chest. But official Mike Mathis, apparently mindful of a bench-clearing brawl that marred Saturday's Miami-Atlanta game, gave both players double technicals. Ewing, who received a technical earlier in an incident with Benoit Benjamin, was ejected with 5:21 left in the half.

"That was [Saturday]. This was a different day with two different teams," Ewing said. "To kick me out without justification, it's wrong. This could have hurt us."

Oakley saw to it that it didn't. A 41-30 lead at the time of the ejection was increased to 55-33 at the half as Oakley scored 10 of the Knicks' final 14 points. Whether it was jumpers, tip-ins or diving for loose balls, the 6-foot-8 forward was the center of attention for the seemingly center-less Knicks.

"I just got the shots and kept fighting," said Oakley, who finished 10 of 18. "It was just one of those days."

New Jersey would capitalize on Ewing's absence at the start of the second half as its penetration sparked a 21-4 run that brought the Nets to 59-54 after Kevin Edwards converted a three-point play with 6:50 left in the third quarter.

The Nets got as close as 70-66 on two free throws by Edwards at the start of the fourth quarter. But the Knicks went on a 9-2 run -- the last three points coming on a long jumper by Hubert Davis, off a gutty offensive rebound by Oakley -- that gave New York a 79-68 lead and control of the game. By the final minute, the sellout crowd filled Madison Square Garden with chants of "sweep, sweep, sweep."

Oakley wasn't the only player to step up. Derek Harper scored only five points, but again was successful in setting the tone of the Knicks' defense by holding Anderson in check. And Herb Williams, Ewing replacement, scored 11 points and blocked three shots in 22 minutes.

"As a team we tried to come out more intense and be more aggressive when Patrick was out," Williams said. "It all started with Oak."

And Oakley's performance reminded coach Pat Riley of a conversation he had with his All-Star forward and All-Star center a couple of weeks ago.

"There are moments in the playoffs that you're going to have experiences like this," Riley recalled of that talk. "[And] some player or players have to play better than they've ever had to play in their career to get you the edge, to get you one win."

Oakley realized that. Unfortunately for Daly, the Nets haven't. The hype leading to the game was incredible, as some New Jersey players spoke of beating the Knicks in the series after winning four of five in the regular season. There's a lesson to be learned, and for the New Jersey players, it's a painful one.

"I know my players had the audacity of talking of winning here," Daly said. "I fully expected we would have a hard time winning one of these games. They [the Knicks] know what they're doing -- they've been there."

And now the Nets are on the verge of vacation, which could come as soon as Wednesday.

"We have to pick up our intensity and just have to keep playing," Anderson said. "We were supposed to lose at Madison Square Garden, so you can't feel bad. We just have to make the best of it at the Meadowlands."

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