NEW YORK -- There would be no playing of the final seconds for New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing. From the time teammate Charles Oakley scored on a dunk with 32.5 seconds left through the frantic final shot attempts by the Chicago Bulls, Ewing simply walked back and forth with both arms raised in the air -- soaking up the moment.
Before the playoffs, Ewing was the man who promised his team a title. "Quote me," he said.
Yesterday the Knicks took one gigantic step toward reaching that goal with an 87-77 win that ended the reign of the three-time NBA champion Bulls.
By winning Game 7, the Knicks advance to the Eastern Conference finals, where they will face the Indiana Pacers at Madison Square Garden tomorrow. The win also gave the Knicks their first series win over the Bulls, who had eliminated New York in four of the past five years.
"This is sweet," said Ewing, who went scoreless in the first half but finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds. "You have to give [the Bulls] a lot of credit. They showed they were a tremendous team, even without Michael Jordan. They showed they were a tremendous team in a great series."
The Knicks finally showed they had the heart of champions as they played their best game of the physical seven-game series. Gone was the flat-footed team that lacked desire in Friday's Game 6 loss. In their place was a team that had fresh legs and played with enthusiasm to the delight of the sellout crowd of 19,763.
"Well, I was wrong -- home court does have something to do in the seventh game," said Chicago coach Phil Jackson, who after RTC Friday's win said playing Game 7 would be like playing on a neutral court. "Their aggression was very telling on our team. We came apart at the seams in the fourth quarter."
The fourth-quarter collapse was the pattern for the Bulls the entire series, as they averaged 16.2 points in the period through the first six games. Chicago scored only 14 fourth-quarter points yesterday, and failed to reach 20 points in any fourth quarter during the series.
But this game was actually won earlier. In the first half, with Ewing scoreless and in early foul trouble and guard John Starks held to one point, New York trailed by just 38-37. Oakley carried the load by scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, and Charles Smith added nine points.
"Patrick was struggling in the first half," said Bulls forward Scott Williams. "And we just couldn't put them away."
Ewing got involved in the offense in the third quarter, but the Knicks were trailing, 63-59, after a Horace Grant jumper with 2:37 left. New York then turned the game with a quarter-ending 8-0 run -- the final points coming with 3.7 seconds left on a three-pointer by Greg Anthony from right in front of the Bulls' bench that gave the Knicks a 67-63 lead and ignited the crowd.
"That was one of the great moments I had [as a professional], in terms of what it meant, the magnitude of it," said Anthony. "Thank God it went for me."
Anthony, who was ripped by the New York media for his three-point, four-turnover performance in Game 6, played the entire fourth quarter in Game 7. Instead of playing afraid he was flawless, finishing with seven points and zero turnovers.
In the fourth quarter the Bulls would never get closer than three points -- 70-67 after a jumper by Bill Cartwright with 9:44 left.
But this would be the Knicks' day. That was never more obvious than with 6:02 left when Ewing banked a three-pointer that upped New York's lead to 80-70 and brought forth a roar that could be heard throughout the five boroughs.
"When Pat banked in that three," said Knicks guard Derek Harper, on the bench at the time, "I felt confident the game was meant for us."
The Bulls did nothing to help their cause in the final period, hitting just six of 20 shots from the field (30 percent). With Scottie Pippen scoring just two points in the final quarter, the Bulls were relying on guys like Toni Kukoc, Steve Kerr and Pete Myers to get the job done. It was never more obvious how badly the team misses a go-to player like Jordan.
"We played well enough to win this series," Jackson said. "Players like Luc Longley, Kerr, Myers and Kukoc. I think there's some growth there and we're looking forward to them being better in the future."
Afterward Jackson had to go into the locker room and try to address his team as playoff losers -- the first time he's had to do that in more than three years. Six of the players (Pippen, Grant, Cartwright, John Paxson, Scott Williams and B. J. Armstrong) had played on the three championship teams.
"When we closed the doors to the locker room, I told the players we haven't been unemployed at this time in a long time," #F Jackson said.
Added Grant: "It was very weird walking off the floor and not
being champs again. A lot of people doubted us and thought we wouldn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs, or take New York to seven."
This might be the last fans see of this Bulls lineup. Of the six players who have been a part of all three title teams, Grant is an unrestricted free agent, and might land in Orlando or Charlotte; Cartwright and Paxson are expected to retire; and Williams has asked out of Chicago.
"Although we're back to square one, we're confident we can rebound in another season," Jackson said.
For the Knicks, it's on to the Eastern Conference finals against an Indiana team that gave them a tough time in the opening round last season. They'll be going into that series knowing they've overcome their toughest opponent.
The Detroit Pistons had to overcome the Boston Celtics to be champions, the Bulls had to get past the Pistons, and the Knicks are hoping it's their turn, having beaten the team that has eliminated them four of the past five years.
"It has to be thought of as the beginning for us," Knicks coach Pat Riley said. "Somewhere, some team had to put [the Bulls] away, and for us I think it was fitting we beat them.
"If the players felt good [yesterday] about winning, they don't even know what they're gonna feel if they win it all," Riley said. "We have so much more work ahead of us."
NOTE: Riley said he would send a thank you note to the Boston Celtics, whose victory over the Bulls on the final Friday of the regular season ensured the Knicks of a better record and home-court advantage.
Chicago .... 19 .. 18 .. 26 .. 14 .. -- .. 77
New York ... 22 .. 16 .. 29 .. 20 .. -- .. 87
The 18 consecutive wins by the home team in NBA playoff seventh games since Philadelphia beat Boston, 120-106, on May 23, 1982:
5/13/84: Bos. 121, N.Y. 104
6/12/84: Bos. 111, Lakers 102
5/11/86: Milw. 113, Phila. 112
5/17/87: Bos. 119, Milw. 113
5/30/87: Bos. 117, Det. 114
5/21/88: Lakers 109, Utah 98
5/22/88: Bos. 118, Atlanta 116
5/4/88: Lakers 117, Dallas 102
6/21/88: Lakers 108, Det. 105
5/19/90: Port. 108, S.A. 105, OT
6/3/90: Detroit 93, Chicago 74
5/17/92: Cleve. 122, Boston 104
5/17/92: Chicago 110, N.Y. 81
5/22/93: Sea. 103, Hou. 100, OT
5/5/93: Phoenix 123, Sea. 110
5/21/94: Hou. 104, Phoenix 94
5/21/94: Utah 91, Denver 81
5/22/94: N.Y. 87, Chicago 77