NEW YORK -- There are times when New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing relies too much on his baseline fadeaway jumper. And that off-balance move resulting in a shot off the wrong foot. And a lack of aggressiveness on the boards, a sin for a player 7 feet tall.
But whatever criticisms Ewing may face, there's one thing that can not be questioned after his performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals: his heart.
There have been games where Ewing has scored more, rebounded more, passed more and had more blocks. But none were bigger than his 24-point, 22-rebound, seven-assist, five-block performance Sunday that helped New York to a 94-90 win over the Indiana Pacers and its first trip to the NBA Finals in 21 years.
Every native New Yorker knows the story about how an injured Willis Reed limped onto the floor for Game 7 of the 1973 championship series against the Los Angeles Lakers and willed his Knicks to a title. Now they'll add to the lore how Ewing carried a team on his shoulders in a game that ended an exciting series against the Pacers.
"I'm very happy, very proud," Ewing said. "I thought my teammates did a tremendous job, Coach [Pat] Riley did a tremendous job. It was a total team effort."
And it's a long time coming for the Knicks, who figured a championship run would come a lot sooner after winning the 1985 lottery and drafting Ewing No. 1. A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Ewing came to the Knicks off a stellar career at Georgetown where, as the "Hoya Destroya" he left as the school's all-time leading rebounder, shot-blocker and second all-time leading scorer.
But Ewing's path to the NBA Finals proved frustrating. He was Rookie of the Year in 1985-86, but missed 32 games with a knee injury as New York won just 23 games.
The following season produced 24 wins and a sprained left knee that forced him out of the final 17 games. The plan by then-New York coach Hubie Brown to play Ewing at power forward, alongside Bill Cartwright, didn't help the franchise player.
"It was a lot of frustration throughout the years," Ewing said.
Unhappy with the direction of the team, Ewing begged to get out of New York in 1991. And team president Dave Checketts begged Ewing to remain. Checketts had a plan, which included Riley -- who won four NBA titles with the Lakers -- at the helm. And Riley got the Knicks on the right course, leading New York to a 51-31 record his first year, 60-22 and a trip to the Eastern Conference finals his second season and now a trip to the NBA Finals.
"Right now I don't remember those bad times," Ewing said. "I feel very good -- happy for myself, happy for my family, happy for the New York Knicks' organization."
And Riley's thankful to have a player of Ewing's determination.
"Patrick's the one who finally finished it up for us," Riley said. "He got us to where we wanted to be."
It took a Game 7 against a Pacers team that had a 12-point lead in the third quarter. Ewing, frustrated by his team's ineffectiveness from the perimeter, finally spoke up.
"I remember telling Coach, 'Run my play,' " Ewing said. "'Get me the ball.' "
And when his teammates didn't get it to him, Ewing went and got it on his own. He had 11 offensive rebounds, the last coming off a miss by John Starks which Ewing slammed home with 26.9 seconds left.
"The big fella wasn't going to let us lose and thank God he was there for us," Starks said.
And they'll need it more against the Houston Rockets and Hakeem Olajuwon, a center who gives Ewing fits. The two have faced each other 16 times in the NBA, with Houston winning 10. Olajuwon has dominated Ewing in points (26.1 to 21.9) and rebounds (13.8 to 9.4).
The Rockets swept the two games against New York this season.
"They're a great team, and have a great center with Hakeem," Ewing said. "He causes a lot of problems with his quickness. But it's a new season, new life. It's going to be a battle."
KNICKS vs. ROCKETS
Date .. .. ..Site .. .. .. .. .. ..Time
Tomorrow .. .at Houston .. .. .. .. ..9
Friday .. ...at Houston .. .. .. .. ..9
Sunday .. .. at New York .. .. .. ....7
June 15 .. ..at New York .. .. .. .. .9
June 17* .. .at New York .. .. .. .. .9
June 19* .. .at Houston .. .. .. .. ..7
June 22* .. .at Houston .. .. .. .. ..9
Note: All games on Chs. 2 and 4