Ewing came up with The Game of his eight-year career last night, and scored the biggest basket on a follow-up dunk that put the Knicks up for good with 26.9 seconds left as New York defeated the Indiana Pacers, 94-90, to win the Eastern Conference championship.
It's the first conference championship since 1973 for the Knicks, who next will face the Western Conference champion Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals, which start Wednesday.
Ewing's line: 24 points, a playoff career-high 22 rebounds (11 offensive), seven assists and all of New York's five blocks. Showing footwork that at times has been absent in this series, Ewing was able to make the big play every time New York needed it.
"I want to be the one to make the big play," the Knicks center said. "If we lose, I'm the one who's going to get the blame, anyway. So let it be because of me."
There was no blame to be passed Ewing's way, not after the play he made with the Knicks trailing 90-89 after a dunk by Dale Davis with 34.5 seconds left. After a timeout the Knicks designed a play where John Starks (17 points) was to get the ball to Ewing. Instead Starks saw a seam in the defense, drove and missed a layup. Ewing, who set the screen to free Starks, came down the middle and threw down a two-hand slam with 26.9 seconds left that put the Knicks up for good, 91-90.
"I just waited a second for it to come off, and dunked it back," Ewing said.
The Pacers, who had fought back from five points down in the fourth quarter, were not through. Not with Reggie Miller, who finished with 25 points. But Miller, under pressure, missed a jumper. And then he was called for a flagrant foul after shoving Starks. Starks hit one of two free throws with 3.2 seconds left, and hit two with 2.8 seconds left, to finish the scoring and set off a wild Madison Square Garden celebration.
"They can't make that call in the conference finals," said an upset Miller, whose two three-pointers in the fourth quarter helped rally the Pacers. "I didn't think it was a flagrant foul in the first place. He knew I was going to foul him."
Referee Mike Mathis, who made the call, said: "The definition of a flagrant foul is one that is excessive and unnecessary. That's what that foul was."
However, in the end, the game was won on the boards, where the Knicks held a 51-29 edge.
"We didn't do a good job of boxing out, and they got offensive rebounds," said Indiana reserve center LaSalle Thompson. "That usually their best offense, and tonight we didn't do a good job."
The Pacers were able to overcome the disadvantage in the first )) half, outshooting the Knicks 67.7 percent to 45.2 percent for a 51-47 lead. Miller had 14 points and Byron Scott had 13 as the Indiana shooting guards combined to hit 10 of 12 shots.
"In the first half our guys just wanted to win so bad," Knicks coach Pat Riley said, "that they didn't play."
And a team that Riley was amazed at being "a step too slow" in such a big game fell behind by as much as 65-53 after Ewing's fourth foul with 4:39 left in the fourth quarter.
"We knew we had to buckle down," Starks said. "Everyone just gritted their teeth and got after them."
Derek Harper started things off with a free throw, starting a quarter-ending 16-4 run that put the Knicks within 71-66.
The fourth quarter started much the same way. Harper's three-pointer with 9:25 left tied the game at 74, and his layup on a pass from Ewing with 8:26 left gave the Knicks their first lead since the second quarter. Anthony Mason ended the 15-5 run that started the quarter with a layup, and the Knicks were ahead, 81-76, with 6:21 left.
Then the Pacers, behind Miller, battled back and retook the lead on Davis' dunk.
But that only set up the huge dunk by Ewing -- a shot that was the final touch on a masterful game.
"He stepped up tonight, and that was the difference," said Indiana coach Larry Brown. "Those guys played a great basketball game and won with a great player making a tremendous play."
Added Riley: "I don't think I've ever seen him play a better game. If there ever was a time where a great player stood up and carried a team on its back, it was Patrick Ewing."
The Pacers did not hang their heads. No one expected them to get past the Orlando Magic. No one expected them to beat the Atlanta Hawks. And no one expected them to take the Knicks to seven games.
"I played with a bunch of teams in Los Angeles, but I'm proud to associate myself with this one," said Scott. "This team is right up there with those championship teams. We played with determination. We didn't back down, we just came up a little short."
Starks, for one, is looking ahead.
"We haven't played our best basketball yet," he said. "The pressure was on here. The championship will be a breeze compared to this."
KNICKS vs. ROCKETS
Date ......... Site ........ Time
Wednesday ... at Houston ... 9 p.m.
Friday ...... at Houston ... 9 p.m.
Sunday ...... at New York .. 7 p.m.
June 15 ..... at New York .. 9 p.m.
June 17* .... at New York .. 9 p.m.
June 19* .... at Houston ... 7 p.m.
June 22* .... at Houston ... 9 p.m.
Note: All games on Chs. 2 and 4