INDIANAPOLIS -- For nearly five months he was nothing more than a high-priced cheerleader, but Patrick Ewing was ready. With the New York Knicks dropping the opening game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Indiana Pacers, Ewing believed that now was the time to return.
But for Knicks fans, this would not be 1970, when an injured Willis Reed limped onto the Madison Square Garden floor and inspired his team to a win over the Los Angeles Lakers for the NBA title. It wouldn't even be close.
What did Ewing resemble? A guy who had missed most of the season with an injured shooting wrist. And while the Knicks managed to keep the game close most of night, it was Indiana that came away with an 85-77 win for a 2-0 lead in the series, with Games 3 and 4 in New York this weekend.
Ewing, who hadn't played since suffering torn ligaments in his right wrist Dec. 20, started the game and played 27 minutes. He missed eight of his 11 shots, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds.
The best center on the floor was Rik Smits, who had 22 points and three blocks. Reggie Miller added 21 for the Pacers, who are attempting to reach the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in the past five years.
"It's 2-0 and we're pleased," said Indiana coach Larry Bird. "We could have got beat, as easily as we won. We made the plays down the stretch."
The biggest play came in the final minute, after a layup by Ewing with 45 seconds left cut what had been a seven-point Indiana fourth-quarter lead to 79-77. Miller followed with a miss from the baseline, putting New York in position for a game-tying possession.
But Antonio Davis jumped over Charles Oakley and grabbed the offensive rebound. Davis was fouled, made both free throws for an 81-77 lead with 28 seconds left and that was basically the game.
"We're going to have to rebound better," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. "This is a series where there are a lot of misses. We didn't get a critical rebound when we needed it."
There were a lot of misses, with New York shooting 40.3 percent and Indiana 40.8 percent. Other than Larry Johnson (15 points, 6-for-10 from the field), no other New York starter hit more than half his shots.
It was an especially tough shooting day for Ewing, who played just three first-quarter minutes because of foul trouble.
Ewing's first attempt, after taking a length-of-the-court pass from Oakley, was blocked by Smits. On an identical play a minute later he was blocked by Chris Mullin. The Knicks ran little of their offense through Ewing in the first half, when he missed all four shots in seven minutes.
"I need to get my timing down on the offensive end," Ewing said. "I missed some baskets I thought I should have scored."
Ewing hit his first field goal on a short jumper with 6: 31 left in the third, and his free throw that followed had New York within 55-51. Just over a minute later he scored on a layup and was establishing a presence as New York rallied from seven down at halftime to tie the game at 60 late in the third.
The Knicks took a 65-64 lead on a layup by John Starks with 10: 31 left, but that was their last advantage. Ewing at times looked as if he were trying to do too much, and at one point turned the ball over while attempting an ill-advised crossover dribble.
"I thought I was going to have a better game," Ewing said. "My expectations are high and I believe in myself. I'm just going to do whatever it takes to help the team win."
With the series returning to New York for the next two games -- and with Ewing's presence expected to electrify the crowd -- the Pacers are leery.
"I thought he would be rusty, but he played well while he was in there," Bird said. "The more he played, the better he got. He's going to be a factor."
Pub Date: 5/08/98