- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

NEW YORK The fans who made up the New York Knicks' 343rd consecutive sellout spent much of Mother's Day serenading Miami Heat coach Pat Riley with a vulgar chant.

But in the waning moments of the Knicks' 91-83 Game 4 victory over the Miami Heat at Madison Square Garden that tied their Eastern Conference semifinal series at 2-2 yesterday, Riley's name was forgotten and replaced with a simple refrain, chanted over and over again: "Charlie," they screamed. As in Ward.

And with good reason. Ward, often assailed as not being a good enough point guard to lead the New York Knicks to the championship that has eluded them since 1973, had his best game of the playoffs and his biggest moments when the Knicks needed them the most.

Ward led the Knicks with a career playoff high 20 points, but most important he carried the Knicks at the end of the game, scoring the Knicks' last nine points. In that stretch, which began with the Knicks holding an 85-72 lead after Miami's P.J. Brown sank a pair of free throws with 4:15 left, Ward went 4-for-4 from the floor the rest of the way, including a 3-pointer with 36.1 seconds left that eliminated any hope the Heat had at taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.

"Charlie always plays like that," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "He's the one guy consistently that we can count on to do all the hustle things on a nightly basis, and it has been one of the reasons we have been successful here with him as the starter."

Coming off Friday's overtime loss to the Heat in which Miami guard Anthony Carter won the game with a shot that went over the backboard and into the basket with 2.2 seconds left, the Knicks needed to do everything possible to prevent them from going back to Miami for Game 5 needing to win three games in a row, and Ward was the big reason why. Along with his 20 points, Ward also had seven rebounds, four assists and three steals.

A humble man who often makes reference to God in post-game interviews, Ward was asked before the game to go at Miami guard Tim Hardaway with a vengeance. The Heat's leader is hobbled with a sore left foot.

"My coaching staff and my teammates asked me before the game to attack," Ward said. "I just wanted to attack more and make plays for my teammates and myself and today I was able to do that."

The Knicks needed a big game from Ward to offset a number of advantages the Heat had. For the fourth game in this series, the Heat had the edge in rebounding, this time by a comfortable 48-37 margin. And Heat center Alonzo Mourning was again more than a match for Patrick Ewing. Mourning finished with game highs in points (27) and rebounds (14) despite picking up his fourth foul with 41.8 seconds left in the third quarter.

However, the Knicks were the scrappier team yesterday, and they took advantage of every opportunity the Heat gave them. Where the Knicks turned the ball over just 11 times leading to 14 points, the Heat had 19 turnovers leading to 28 points. Mourning turned the ball over nine times.

"This game is behind us," Mourning said, sounding confident that the Heat can rebound. "We know what we did wrong, most definitely. I mean, 28 points off turnovers. When you are on the road and in a hostile environment, you just can't give away 28 points, man. You got to cut that in half at least. Twenty-eight points is a lot of points. That's where we lost the game."

Riley agreed.

"The turnovers were the difference," Riley said. "Half of them were unconscionable. I felt there was some pressure but not the kind of pressure that would force you to turn the ball over. We made a lot of mistakes, like passing the ball and not reading the double teams and forcing the issue."

In the early stages the Knicks appeared almost willing to bow to the Heat. Miami opened the game with a pair of threes while the Knicks missed their first six shots. However, the Knicks used a 22-6 run later in the quarter to take a 26-17 lead with 1:15 left in the period. New York led by two points at the half and never trailed again after a 3-pointer by Larry Johnson (13 points) gave the Knicks a 51-49 lead with 8:08 left in the third quarter. The closest Miami would get after that was 86-81 on a Mourning dunk with 1:30 left.

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