NEW YORK -- For the past three days, New Yorks Knicks forward Charles Oakley was ready to erupt. There were some veiled criticisms made toward some of his teammates, with Oakley unhappy with both their shot selection and hustle.
So with Knicks desperate for a win to avoid falling behind 3-1 against the Houston Rockets, Oakley simply led by example. He didn't score the most points, but Oakley made the biggest impact in New York's 91-82 win last night that evened the best-of-seven series at 2-2.
Oakley was a terror on the boards, grabbing 20 rebounds -- nine offensive. He also scored 16 points, seven coming in the final quarter in which the Knicks put the game away.
Derek Harper scored 21 points to lead the Knicks, John Starks 20 and Patrick Ewing 16 points and 15 rebounds before fouling out with 1:13 left.
Hakeem Olajuwon scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lead the Rockets.
With the Rockets leading, 61-60, going into the final 12 minutes, Olajuwon began to silence those who have criticized his lack of fourth-quarter production over the final 12 minutes.
Limited to just three field goals over the fourth quarter of the first three games, Olajuwon had three in the first four minutes, the last on a dunk that gave Houston a 69-67 lead with 8:02 left.
Then Oakley, still hobbling, began to bring the Knicks back. Fouled on a drive to the basket, Oakley his two free throws to tie the game at 69. Then, after Matt Bullard hit a free throw for a one-point Houston lead, Oakley grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a layup, then hit a free throw after being fouled on New York's next possession for a 72-70 Knicks lead.
A short jumper by Olajuwon tied the game at 72, but the Knicks scored the next five -- the last on two free throws by Oakley -- for a 77-72 lead with 4:37 left.
Later, after Ewing clanged two free throws, Oakley dove into the crowd for the loose ball and tossed a pass to Starks at the top of the key. One dribble later, Starks got free for a three-pointer that gave New York an 80-64 lead.
The lead was 85-78 after Starks hit another three-pointer with 2:31 left, and the Knicks were in control. Houston called timeout, but the jumper by Starks had taken the life out of the Rockets who got as close as three points.
Knicks coach Pat Riley wanted his team to come out with more force, to overcome the slow start that put New York behind by 16 points in the first half of Sunday's loss. And the Knicks did just that on their first possession, getting three offensive rebounds on that one trip that ended with a dunk by Ewing.
The effort was contagious early, sparked by the hustle of Oakley, and the Knicks had a 17-2 lead after a jumper by Harper with 4:37 left.
Although Houston was horrible in the quarter, going one for nine from the field and committing seven turnovers over the first eight minutes, the Knicks could not put them away. The team's offense began to falter after Oakley and Harper both went to the bench with their second fouls midway through the quarter.
The Rockets' offense was helped by rookie guard Sam Cassell, the hero for Houston who was booed heavily by the Garden crowd when he entered the game with 7:39 left. Cassell scored five points -- including a three-pointer -- as the Rockets ended the quarter with a 12-2 run to pull within 19-14.
New York seemed a team divided in the second quarter, bickering among themselves. Oakley began screaming when, while posting up Vernon Maxwell on a mismatch, Starks instead launched a three-pointer that missed. And Ewing, who continued to launch long-range jumpers instead of operating in the low post, screamed when Otis Thorpe grabbed an offensive rebound and soared uncontested for a slam dunk.
But the Knicks' backcourt helped overcome the dissension as it scored 11 points during a quarter-opening 13-5 run to increase New York's lead to 32-19 after a layup by Starks with 4:52 left.
New York's lead never fell below seven points and the Knicks, behind a 26-20 rebounding edge, had a 40-33 halftime lead.
Both Charles Smith and Ewing had eight points to lead the Knicks, but Ewing hit just four of 14 shots -- with most of his misses coming from the outside. He did grab 10 rebounds.
Olajuwon scored 10 to lead the Rockets in scoring, but had just two rebounds. The Rockets shot just 35.9 percent from the field.
NEW YORK KNICKS vs. HOUSTON ROCKETS (Series tied, 2-2) Results
Gm. 1: Rockets 85, Knicks 78
2: Knicks 91, Rockets 83
Gm. 3: Rockets 93, Knicks 89
Gm. 4: Knicks 91, Rockets 82
Date .. .. .. .. Site .. .. .. .. Time
Tomorrow . .. .. at New York . .. 9
Sunday ... .. .. at Houston .. .. 7
Wednesday* .. .. at Houston .. .. 9
TV: All games on chs. 2 and 4