NEW YORK -- Patrick Ewing might be surprised that he's had a little trouble stopping Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits, but the New York Knicks center is definitely not being affected on the offensive end.
For the second game in a row, the 7-foot Ewing took it straight at the 7-4 Smits, this time scoring 32 points as the Knicks defeated the Pacers, 89-78, last night to take a 2-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
Ewing also had 13 rebounds, and hit his last seven shots from the field. He helped the Knicks recover from an eight-point deficit in the first half and retain the home-court advantage. The series shifts to Indianapolis tomorrow and Monday, where the Pacers will play host to games 3 and 4.
Ewing hit 12 of 22 shots, and seven of his 13 boards were offensive. He scored 20 in the second half, leading the third-quarter spurt that gave the Knicks control of the game and hit all four of his fourth-quarter shots when the Knicks put the Pacers away.
"Patrick Ewing, he was just not going to let us lose this game," Knicks coach Pat Riley said. "He's about as committed as any player I've ever been around."
There was plenty of help for Ewing. Derek Harper scored 18 points and had eight assists, and Charles Oakley added 17 points.
A more aggressive Reggie Miller led the Pacers with 23 points and Smits added 22, but no other Indiana player scored in double figures, and the Indiana bench was limited to 12 points in 57 minutes. The Pacers shot just 38.5 percent.
"We only have two guys looking to score," said Indiana coach Larry Brown. "And you can't win a basketball game if you expect Rik Smits to outplay Patrick and Reggie to outscore the rest of the Knicks."
Miller promised to go down shooting last night and he did, launching 21 attempts -- 10 more than he took on Tuesday when he scored 14 points. Miller had 10 points in the first quarter, keeping the Pacers within 25-19.
The Pacers' leading scorer didn't have a point in the second quarter, but Smits carried the load. Overcoming two early fouls, Smits scored nine points in the quarter, helping the Pacers to a 39-31 lead on a Dale Davis jumper with 3:44 left.
But the Knicks ended the quarter with a 9-1 run -- including a big three-pointer by Greg Anthony -- to go into the half tied at 40. FTC "They were outplaying us coming to the end of the second quarter," Harper said. "We found a way to get back into the game -- we were lucky going into halftime."
The Pacers picked it up again in the third quarter, going up 62-57 with 3:39 left after a layup by Derrick McKey. But this time the Knicks closed the quarter with a 9-0 run -- including a banked three-pointer by Harper -- to take a 66-62 lead into the final quarter. Indiana was never able to get closer than eight points.
"It's one team doing all the little things to win the game," Brown said. "They're getting every loose ball, every rebound."
Although the Knicks were up and down all night in a game that was not particularly well-played, Ewing was consistent throughout. After a seven-game series where he banged with Chicago Bulls center Bill Cartwright and several capable backups, Ewing is having an easier time offensively against Smits.
"Against Chicago it was hard for me to get the ball," Ewing said. "Rik is not as cagey defensively as Cartwright, so it hasn't been as difficult getting position."
Now the Knicks will try to close out the Pacers in Indiana. It's a familiar position for the Knicks: They had a 2-0 lead on the Bulls in the conference finals last year when Chicago won four straight.
"We're going to Indiana on a business trip," Ewing said. "It's all about business."
And the Pacers know what's at stake.
"We've got to go back and win -- it's very simple," Miller said. "I think going home will help. We all are going to have to step up."
Said Brown: "I don't see anybody giving up now, saying it's over. [But] if we don't step up, it'll be four and out."