Patrick Ewing refused to let the New York Knicks lose.
He refused to fold under the pressure of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals.He refused to let foul trouble bother him in the closing minutes of the biggest game of his NBA career.
He refused to give up when the Knicks, trailing the Indiana Pacers by a point, missed a crucial shot with about 30 seconds left.
When John Starks missed, Ewing grabbed the rebound and dunked it to give New York the lead for good in a 94-90 victory that sent the Knicks to the NBA Finals for the first time in 21 years.
The gigantic jam climaxed a sensational game for Ewing, who had 24 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks despite picking up his fifth foul with 4:52 remaining and the Knicks clinging to an 83-80 lead.
"I don't think I've ever seen anyone play a better game at the moment of truth," Knicks coach Pat Riley said.
Twenty-two seconds after picking up his fifth foul, Ewing fed Anthony Mason for a layup that put the Knicks ahead 85-80. With two minutes left, Indiana had cut it to 87-86, but Ewing hit a baseline jumper and New York led by three.
Indiana came back and took a 90-89 lead on a dunk by Dale Davis with 34 seconds remaining. Again Ewing responded, this time with his biggest basket of the game.
When Starks missed a driving shot, the 7-foot center grabbed the rebound above the rim and slammed it home with 26 seconds left.
"Antonio Davis had to come over to pick up Starks when he drove, and no one picked up Patrick," Riley said. "Actually, John missed the shot in a perfect way."
It was a perfect ending for Ewing and the Knicks, who will travel to Houston to play the Rockets in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday night.
"He stepped up tonight and that was the difference," Pacers coach Larry Brown said. "As a coach, I'm in awe of him for what he's done."
Despite Ewing's dunk, the Pacers still had a chance to win. But Reggie Miller shot an airball and then was whistled for a controversial flagrant foul against Starks with 3.2 seconds left and the Pacers trailing by one.
Miller, desperate to stop the clock, slapped at Starks and appeared to hit him in the face. Referee Mike Mathis called it a flagrant foul, giving Starks two foul shots and subsequent possession to the Knicks.
After Starks made one of two free throws, the Pacers were forced to foul him again and the Knicks guard hit two more from the line to clinch the victory.
Miller, who was crying after the game, disputed the flagrant foul.
"It's the conference finals and you can't call that," he said.
But Mathis defended his decision.
"The definition of a flagrant foul is one that is excessive and unnecessary," he said. "That's what the foul was."
Excessive also could describe the Knicks' rebounding edge over the Pacers. New York won the battle of the boards 51-29 and grabbed 28 offensive rebounds, two short of the NBA playoff record.
"They killed us on the boards," Brown said.
Starks scored 17 points and Derek Harper added 16 for New York, which trailed by 12 late in the third period.
Miller led Indiana with 25 points. Pacers reserve Byron Scott, who played on three title teams for the Riley-coached Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s, scored 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting.
"This team is right up there with those championship teams," Scott said. "We played with determination. It was a tough loss, but we didn't back down. We just came up a little short."
The NBA Finals will feature a championship rematch between Ewing and Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon. Ewing's Georgetown Hoyas beat Olajuwon's Houston Cougars for the NCAA title in 1984.
"Houston's a great ballclub, so we still have to come out and play with the same type of intensity," Starks said.
The Rockets will have the homecourt advantage because they had a better regular-season record than the Knicks. New York is 9-1 at home in the playoffs, but only 2-6 on the road.
"The road has been hard for us, but I think that it has made us a better basketball team," Starks said.