- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Their point guard said Jews have the blood of Jesus Christ on their hands. Their coach said religion had become too prominent in their locker room. Their center missed Game 3 of a playoff series because he was at home, where earlier in the week his mother and two sisters were held hostage.

And there are problems on the court, too. The small forward wants more shots, and the power forward is hurt.

The New York Knicks have so many different plot lines and distractions that the city's sensationalistic tabloids have had trouble deciding which one to play up.

It appeared these distractions would be the Knicks' undoing when they were routed at home by the Toronto Raptors 94-74 in Game 2 of their best-of-5 Eastern Conference series Thursday.

Despite all these problems, somehow the Knicks found a way to win Sunday.

The Knicks rebounded and surprisingly recaptured homecourt advantage with a 97-89 victory over the Raptors in Toronto to take a 2-1 edge in the series.

"You always hear that this is the trademark of this team," said Othella Harrington, a reserve who started in place of starting center Marcus Camby on Sunday. "This team is known for when things go bad they really rally together. This is a prime example."

The bizarre events of the last two weeks began with the characterization of guards Charlie Ward and Allan Houston as anti-Semites after they made comments to a Jewish reporter from the New York Times during a bible study. Ward was reported to have said that the Jews killed Christ and that Christians are being "persecuted" daily by Jews.

The Ward-Houston incident came a few weeks after coach Jeff Van Gundy made public how frustrated he had become with the open display of religion in his locker room.

The Knicks' season took another bizarre turn when Camby asked out of Game 3 after an ordeal in Connecticut on April 23 when his mother and two sisters were taken hostage at knife point by a man. The man has been charged with sexually assaulting one of Camby's sisters.

And if that wasn't enough for Van Gundy and his team to overcome, they had to deal with forward Glen Rice, who complained he wasn't getting enough shots, and starting power forward Larry Johnson being sidelined with a bad back.

A week ago it appeared the Knicks would succumb to the distractions and hand the Raptors the first playoff series victory in their history. However, heading into Game 4 tomorrow in Toronto, it is the Knicks a team that has won 11 consecutive first-round series, the longest such streak in the NBA who are on the verge of winning.

In their most crucial game of the season, the Knicks got 24 points from Houston and 20 from Latrell Sprewell. Rice, who had scored just 19 points in the first two games of the series, chipped in 18 points.

These Knicks, like the Yankees of the late 1970s, seem to thrive on adversity and play their best when everything appears to be going against them.

"Everybody had a look in their eyes on the plane ride," Houston said. "We knew it wasn't going to be easy, but we know how important this game was."

Added Sprewell, a player who knows a little something about vilification: "We wish Marcus was here, we wish L.J. could play. But they're not. The bottom line is we have guys on this team that are very capable, and I think we showed that."

Van Gundy has always liked the way his team responded after a bad loss. However, following the Knicks' 20-point flogging by the Raptors in Game 2, Van Gundy admitted he did not know what to expect.

"With this team I didn't know," Van Gundy said. "You just never know when you go down in the fourth quarter how the team will react. You don't know if they will execute or they will crack."

After leading for the entire game, Van Gundy got his answer with 10:33 remaining in Game 3. After Toronto went ahead for the first time 72-70, Ward, who scored all of his nine points in the fourth quarter, returned and nailed a 3-pointer that started a 12-2 run and finished off the Raptors.

But in the end it was the Knicks' ability to play defense the one thing they have done consistently all season that proved the difference. The Knicks held Vince Carter to 20 points on 5-for-21 shooting. In the three games, Carter is 20 of 65 from the field (.308). And Alvin Williams, who averaged 21.5 points in the first two games, was held to nine points on 4-for-11 shooting in Game 3.

Along with their added momentum, the Knicks found out yesterday that they would have Camby their leader in block shots and rebounds back in the lineup for Game 4.

"It's been depressing, I can't lie," Camby said after practicing yesterday. "But you have to get back to your normal life. Coming here, trying to smile and laugh. Just trying to let the guys know that I'm all right. Let's not talk about what happened. Let's move on and close out Toronto."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report

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