NEW YORK -- After watching countless hours of game tapes before the start of the NBA Finals, the New York Knicks were amazed at how many wide-open, three-point shots the Houston Rockets had gotten in the playoffs.
"We looked at their film," Knicks forward Charles Oakley said, "and it was like them going into a store and just taking whatever they wanted."
Through the first two games of the Finals, consider the store closed. New York's defense has suffocated the Rockets, particularly in the fourth quarter, and on Friday it helped the Knicks to a 91-83 win, earning them a split in the two games at Houston.
Tonight the series moves to Madison Square Garden for the first of three straight games on the Knicks' home court.
The Rockets entered the championship series shooting 47.3 percent from the field, third best among the 16 teams that made the playoffs. But in two games against the Knicks, Houston's shooting percentage has fallen to 40.3 percent.
The Rockets have been overwhelmed by the Knicks' fourth-quarter defense, which going into the Finals had held opponents to an average of 19.2 points and 36.8 percent shooting. Houston scored 13 points in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and 18 on Friday (15.5 average). And after missing 11 of 13 shots in the fourth on Wednesday, the Rockets hit just five of 25 on Friday. That's a combined seven of 38 (18.4 percent) through two fourth quarters.
New York's key thus far has been taking the Houston backcourt of Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith completely out of the game. Their accuracy from three-point range had helped open the middle for Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe throughout the playoffs.
Maxwell has shot just 36.3 percent in the two games, and he committed a team-high seven turnovers on Friday. Kenny Smith has been a no-show, hitting two of 10 shots through two games and totaling five points. The two have combined to hit four of 16 three-point shots, thanks to New York's swift defensive rotations on the perimeter.
"A couple of guys got fatigued, and that definitely hurt us down the stretch," said Maxwell, who scored 20 points on Friday. "I don't know what it is, but I think the fatigue factor definitely kicked in towards the end."
If any team had reason to be tired it was the Knicks, who had two grueling seven-game series leading to the Finals and had entered Game 1 with just a three-day break. The Rockets finished the Utah Jazz in five games in the Western Conference finals, earning an eight-day break going into the championship series.
Although Olajuwon has, statistically, outplayed Ewing, fatigue is also a factor in his play. Ewing has difficulty playing Olajuwon one-on-one, so from the outset the Knicks have rotated different players on Olajuwon.
Anthony Mason, New York's 6-foot-7 reserve forward, has gotten the assignment on Olajuwon during much of the fourth period in both games. The result: The league's MVP has been held to two field goals in those two fourth quarters.
"I thought Anthony did a tremendous job pushing Hakeem out and trying to make him take tough shots," Ewing said. "It was a relief. He was able to come in fresh and give us a lift defensively."
And it allowed Ewing to roam on defense. Ewing didn't shoot well on Friday (16 points, seven of 19 from the field), but he grabbed 13 rebounds and had six of New York's 10 blocks -- including a key weakside block on Olajuwon in the closing minutes.
"We have to watch films and come back and make some adjustments," said Olajuwon.
NEW YORK KNICKS vs.
(Series tied, 1-1)
Gm. 1: Rockets 85, Knicks 78
Gm. 2: Knicks 91, Rockets 83
Date .. .. .. .. .. Site .. .. .. .. .. .. Time
Today .. .. ... .. at New York .. .. .. .. 7
Wednesday ... ... at New York .. .. .. ... 9
Friday .. .. ... at New York .. .. ... ... 9
June 19* ... ... at Houston .. .. .. .. .. 7
June 22* ... ... at Houston .. .. .. .. .. 9
TV: All games on chs. 2 and 4