- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

NEW YORK The Knicks came out with all the energy at Madison Square Garden last evening.

They made all the hustle plays. They grabbed all the loose balls. They played with a sense of desperation, with conviction. They had the bigger hearts. They made shots, too, big shots from behind the 3-point arc.

It did not matter who was missing from the Knicks lineup. It did not matter who was hurting. Patrick Ewing was reduced to cheering from the bench again, consigned there because of tendinitis in his right foot.

Chris Dudley earned his second consecutive start in Ewing's place, and that was the extent of his highlights.

Dudley has the best job in the NBA. He does not have to do much. He just has to put a body on someone, and then people, on cue, mention how he does all the little things.

Dudley collected two early fouls two of the little things he does and went to the bench. He finished with five fouls and no points in eight minutes. The Knicks can beat the Pacers 4-on-5. They did it in the playoffs last season. They did it in the two games here. The Knicks probably could beat the Pacers with Spike Lee at center.

The way the Knicks are going, Jeff Van Gundy, the human ankle weight, eventually may have to activate Lee. Just in case, Lee came prepared, wearing a Knicks jersey, as he usually does, from his seat at courtside.

The Knicks no longer issue press releases. They issue medical reports.

Ewing is day-to-day, whatever that means, considering he has been day-to-day the last five days.

Other Knicks are wounded, but they don't act like it.

Latrell Sprewell was playing on a fractured left foot. Marcus Camby was playing with a sprained right knee. Larry Johnson has a bad back. Dudley's body is so broken up, he now calculates his age in dog years.

Van Gundy looks worse than his players. He looks dead. He either is dead and did not have the decency to tell anyone or he is an honorary Gothic. His colorless pall offsets the dark circles under his eyes. He tops it with a bad plug job and an out-of-control comb over. His postgame discourses are painful, tortuous. He is the verbal equivalent of a root canal.

The Knicks could be down to Woody Allen and Soon-Yi and a couple of guys off the street and still challenge the Pacers. The Pacers seemingly want to go down as the "best team never to reach the NBA Finals."

The Pacers think small. The Pacers came to Manhattan looking to get a split from the two games. Larry Bird did not understand the thinking. He wanted both games. So now the Pacers are returning to Indianapolis with the series tied 2-2.

"It's very frustrating," Reggie Miller said. "We thought we would get one game here."

The Pacers played much of this one in a stupor. They should be well-rested for Game 5 tomorrow night.

Charlie Ward, the Knicks' 6-foot-2 Heisman Trophy winner, had five rebounds in the first half, two more than the Pacers' leading rebounder. The Knicks coasted to a 17-point lead in the first half after shooting 66.7 percent. It is easy to shoot 66.7 percent when your opponents are afraid of being bruised.

"We just didn't play in the first half," Bird said. "It was disappointing. We can't afford to come out like that."

The Pacers eventually got around to making a run. That is how it goes in the NBA. Teams make runs. The Pacers nearly made it all the way back after a 3-pointer by Miller cut the Knicks' lead to one point midway through the fourth quarter.

But you can't undo 24 minutes' worth of listlessness with a late run. Johnson, whose 3-point shooting appears to have improved with his discovery of Allah, stopped the surge with a 3-pointer from the right wing.

It was like that all game. You hit the Knicks. They hit back with a 3-pointer.

The smaller Knicks also hit the boards, outrebounding the Pacers 41-32.

The Pacers made one last mental blunder with 4.1 seconds left as Jalen Rose committed a lane violation after Sprewell missed his second consecutive free throw attempt.

Given another chance, Sprewell hit the free throw to settle the issue.

That was fitting.

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