HOUSTON -- When the last brick had been laid on a shooting night that John Starks would like to forget, the New York Knicks guard sat, angry, in front of his locker and -- guarded from the media -- refused to talk.
The explosive Starks -- after a 3-for-18 shooting performance in his team's 85-78 loss to the Houston Rockets on Wednesday -- had been reduced to a mere fizzle.
"I was hot, no question about it," Starks said yesterday, describing his mood, not his shot. "I knew I could have played a much better game, defensively and offensively. I was just [sitting and] going over the game in my mind."
Perhaps Starks was going over a different ending for tonight's Game 2 of the NBA Finals, as the Knicks attempt to even the best-of-seven series against the Rockets.
Game 1 was not pretty for Starks, or either team. The combined 28 fourth-quarter points (15 for New York, 13 for Houston) established a record for fewest points in a quarter in a finals series. The combined 63-point second half was also a record low for a final series.
What's supposed to be a showcase of the NBA's best teams resulted in a fourth quarter where the winning team missed 11 of its 13 shots. For that matter, the Knicks shot 34.1 percent for the game.
"You're a professional player who makes a lot of money, you make those shots," Knicks coach Pat Riley said. "We missed 20 dead-open shots. They just didn't go in. They're going to go in [tonight]."
That means Starks will have to step up and get the job done. In the second half on Wednesday, Starks hit just one of 12 shots, with no miss costlier than an air ball on a potential game-tying three-point attempt with 1:40 left. The Knicks had rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to that point, but they seemed deflated after the miss.
"I'd love to have that one back," Starks said. "We had plenty of time to take it to the basket. Those things happen."
It has been a difficult week for Starks, who missed the team's practice on Tuesday after flying to Tulsa, Okla., for the funeral of uncle Frank Tate.
"I had a special relationship with my uncle -- he was a man who I looked up to and a man who gave me strength," Starks said. vTC "But that didn't have anything to do with my performance."
No, his performance simply falls in line with his career, which has been up and down. Undrafted after playing for four colleges, Starks is one of seven players in the finals who have spent time in the CBA.
An explosive scorer, Starks has increased his production each season, to 19 points per game this season. He's also one of the league's top defenders, with the combination of his skills making him an Eastern Conference All-Star this season.
Starks is known to be a streaky shooter. He scored only three points in the opening game of the Indiana series, but for the series he hit 15 of 33 three-pointers (45.5 percent) and averaged 13.9 points. The Rockets know Starks can bounce back.
"I thought we did a pretty good job on him," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said of Starks. "But he's a very streaky guy. We can maybe do a better job defensively and he can shoot a better percentage. He's that type of player."
NOTES: Rockets guard Vernon Maxwell, who has had numerous run-ins with the Houston police, was asked whether he likes the attention he gets here. "When I'm not going to jail, I'm pretty much comfortable with the notoriety I'm getting," Maxwell said. . . . Former New Jersey Nets coach Chuck Daly said he'd like to see changes to open up the scoring in the league. "I would like to see if we can put the basket back in basketball," Daly said, citing the low scores in this year's playoffs. "Maybe moving the three-point line in a foot, or going to the [international] trapezoid lane." . . . Wednesday's loss for the Knicks was the first in the opening game of a playoff series since Riley took over three years ago. . . . Houston natives are in an uproar over a New York Post column with headline "This Place is a Hellhole." Houston Post columnist Lynn Ashby responded that the New York Post is a "daily dialogue for underachievers" and that Houstoners should not "overreact to the rantings of a reporter who had to use his dictionary to spell D-Day."
NEW YORK vs. HOUSTON
(Rockets lead series, 1-0)
Game 1 -- Rockets 85, Knicks 78
Today -- New York at Houston, 9 p.m.
Sunday -- Houston at New York, 7 p.m.
Wednesday -- Houston at New York, 9 p.m.
June 17 -- Houston at New York, 9 p.m. *
June 19 -- New York at Houston, 7 p.m.*
June 22 -- New York at Houston, 9 p.m.*
* -- if necessary