- The Washington Times - Monday, May 8, 2000

MIAMI The New York Knicks and Miami Heat have fought so many battles on the court over the years that it seemed appropriate yesterday's game was decided by a choke.

Miami, which has come out the loser in their playoff series with the Knicks in each of the last two seasons, strangled the Knicks offensively in the fourth quarter. The Heat held New York without a basket in the final 5:34, earned a hard fought 87-83 victory and took a 1-0 lead in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinal before a crowed of 20,053 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Game 2 is here tomorrow night.

It was a game befitting a rivalry that has become the glamour matchup in the Eastern Conference. The matchup is not intriguing because of the play of the teams, but because of the animosity that has built up between the two over the last few seasons.

Yesterday was a typical back-and-forth battle that is expected of a Heat-Knicks game. There were eight lead changes in the fourth quarter alone and, until the Heat achieved the final margin of victory with 5.6 seconds left on a jumper from center Alonzo Mourning, neither team led by more than three points over the last 14 minutes of the game.

"It was one of those games; there was an adversity to it," Miami coach Pat Riley said. "There was some conflict and it was unclear at the end who was going to win. I think that's the way this series is going to be played. Somebody might get on a roll one game."

For the Heat that was Mourning.

Mourning scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter, including Miami's final eight. He did this despite being knocked woozy and forced from the game in the third quarter when he and Knicks guard Charlie Ward collided head first while chasing down a lose ball with 4:35 left in the quarter and the Heat leading 62-56.

But in the fourth quarter it was Mourning who came through when no one from either team was able to respond.

"He had a great game," Riley said. "He did what he was supposed to do."

But the former Georgetown Hoya said it was what the team did as a whole that proved the difference in the game.

Before the series started, the Heat players all agreed that there would be certain areas in which they could not allow the Knicks to beat them and yesterday they did a good job of winning most of those battles.

"We had to win the rebounding and we did," said Mourning, whose team had 41-40 edge thanks to power forward P.J. Brown's 16-rebound performance. "And we also won in the turnover category (12-13). But what we thought was the most important area to win in the effort department who is going to outwork the other team. We knew they were going to go all out to win this game."

When the Knicks needed to make something happen late in the game they were unable to execute.

Trailing 83-81 after a pair of Mourning free throws, Chris Childs and Larry Johnson' both launched and missed questionable 3-pointers. But New York's most crucial mistake came when Allen Houston's entry pass to Ewing was knocked away by Brown and resulted in a turnover with 28.3 seconds left in the game. The turnover resulted in Mourning's 17-footer.

"We turned the ball over far too often and we missed a couple of open shots," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy of his team, which had five turnovers in the fourth quarter.

Mourning got help from starting small forward Jamal Mashburn, who finished the game with 21 points and helped hold the Knicks Latrell Sprewell to just 11 points. Houston's 21 points, of which only four came in the fourth quarter, led New York. The Knicks got a decent effort from center Patrick Ewing. Ewing, who was questionable before the game due to back spasms, had 17 points and nine rebounds.

The Heat received an emotional lift from ailing guard Tim Hardaway. Hardaway did not play in the Heat's three-game sweep of Detroit in the first round because of a strained left ankle and he was questionable for yesterday's game. But Hardaway managed to play 30 minutes and handed out a game-high seven assists.

"I wanted to just control the tempo and be another scoring threat out there," Hardaway, who finished with six points, said. "If I can bring the ball up and get them in the right places that's all we need."

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