PURCHASE, N.Y. — PURCHASE, N.Y. -- For four years, Pat Riley has preached total commitment and devotion to the team concept and to his vision of how a National Basketball Association title can be won.
On Monday, Riley said it was time for his New York Knicks to give as they've never given before, because the alternative is a quick exit from the playoffs.
"I think what has to happen more than anything is that we all have this channel that we have to open up," Riley said after the Knicks practiced for nearly three hours at Purchase College. "We have to be totally open the next three days to whatever it takes to get ready. You can't close down the channel of cooperation and all of those things that we've talked about all year long. Otherwise, it blocks everything; it blocks the energy, the vitality and the force that we have as a team, that has been blocked for some reason.
"And that's what's been mystifying to me, that lack of force and energy that's so vital for us . . . and we have to open up those channels again."
Riley has questioned his players' dedication and selflessness frequently this season, but the consequences of falling short in those categories this time are more dire than ever: They trail the Indiana Pacers 3-1 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series and have to win tonight at Madison Square Garden to stay alive.
The players sound as mystified as Riley does about how the Pacers are playing tougher, headier and hungrier in this series.
"They're outplaying us. They come with a lot of effort," forward Charles Oakley said. "They're doing a lot of things: They're breaking us down, they're moving the basketball. . . . They're playing smarter than us, better than us."
It hasn't been as simple as a big Pacers edge in talent. The Pacers have stolen two games from the Knicks at the end, and in Saturday's Game 4 loss in Indianapolis, the Knicks fell apart in the second half. That was why the Knicks Monday worked on "force," an area of weakness less tangible than, say, free-throw shooting.
"It's more of a disposition. It's not going out there throwing people against the wall," Riley said. "When you define the word 'aggressiveness,' it's a disposition to want to dominate the opposition. You've got to move your feet, you've got to advance the ball, you've got to get down the floor, you've got to get your head under the rim, you've got to chase down loose balls. It's more of an attitude than anything else. And we know that. We've talked about this a lot, and we did not have that at all in the third quarter [of Game 4]."
The tangible areas that needed work are obvious. The Knicks were outrebounded 88-57 in the two games in Indianapolis, including 25-14 in the second half of Game 4 when Dale Davis, the Pacers' leading rebounder during the regular season, was out with a dislocated right shoulder. That is part of the effort the Knicks are lacking, Riley said, although he admitted, "We're there, but they're just outjumping us."
Plus, the Knicks missed a hideous 22 free throws in the two games (33 for 55, 60 percent), and made a ton of bad decisions.
"Some of our shots were frantic the other night," he said. "There were a lot of open men in the second half that were missed; no second pass."
As for the free throws, he said, "They're free. You've got to make 'em."
Center Patrick Ewing still is hobbling with sore calves, but he participated in most of the drills Monday, Riley said.
"He's OK," the coach said, less than convincingly. "He's working at it as hard as he can. I thought he had a decent game the other day, and can probably expect more so from him [tonight]."