SAN ANTONIO -- The Knicks began Game 1 with the dreamy look of a team that had put its faith in fairy tale endings and wishes upon stars. If the team just believed hard enough, everything would come true.
But as Wednesday night unfolded, destiny ran into reality. The magnitude of Tim Duncan's performance, David Robinson's presence and Jaren Jackson's dispiriting 3-pointers has put the Knicks into unfamiliar territory as Game 2 of the National Basketball Association Finals looms Friday night at the Alamodome.The Knicks' underdog attitude wasn't enough to continue their momentum-stealing tricks that had left them ahead in every playoff series of their wild run. This time, the Spurs withstood the Knicks' early threat in the fourth quarter and then methodically picked them apart during a 13-4 run that led to an 89-77 poke at the Knicks' confidence.
"You know, it might wake them up a little bit, but it's not going to kill their confidence," Robinson said Thursday after the Spurs' practice session. "They're going to come in with high energy, but now they realize they're in with a team that's going to fight them every bit of the way. We won the Western Conference. We didn't win it for nothing. We played good basketball.
"I think maybe they were a little surprised that we were able to take control of the game like that. But it's one game. They're not going to be totally discouraged."
It's not the Knicks' nature. They didn't exactly know how they were going to create open shots against the Spurs, or how they were going to guard the Twin Towers without landing in the hopeless foul trouble they found in Game 1, or how they expected to hold up when their big men were growing more injured by the minute. But somehow, they were determined to find a way.
"It's one game," the Knicks' Chris Childs said. "With eight minutes left, we were only down six last night. And we weren't even playing our best. We'll see Mr. Robinson Friday night when we're at our best."
At this point, what goes for their best? Coach Jeff Van Gundy was left looking at a team that keeps adding lines to its medical chart with more injuries than the night before. During Game 1, Chris Dudley bruised his elbow; he will play but doesn't know if the pain and swelling will allow him to shoot, block shots or rebound with full mobility. Marcus Camby caught a knee in his right thigh and has a contusion that may irritate him in Game 2. And Larry Johnson, who was at the mercy of Duncan and Robinson in Game 1, will continue to play on a sprained knee that needs two or three weeks of rest.
"It's tough on everyone," Dudley said. "But we have to fight through it and pull off a miracle for Patrick Ewing's ring."
More than miracles, they need a plan. The Knicks need their remaining big men to be just as aggressive but not reckless in putting Duncan and Robinson on the free-throw line. They need Latrell Sprewell to run free on the break but be less frantic in the halfcourt after finishing Game 1 shooting nine for 24, with 19 points, six turnovers and a couple of mental lapses on defense that allowed Jackson to open up for 3-pointers down the stretch. They need Allan Houston to shake off the fatigue that seemed to sap him near the end of his 43-minute night and keep driving and kicking the ball out.
And both Sprewell and Houston need to be undaunted by the shot-blocking prowess of Duncan and Robinson and keep going to the basket. In Game 1, Houston went to the free-throw line five times, while Sprewell didn't go at all. As important as Houston and Sprewell are, the Knicks are at their best when they make the extra pass, find Kurt Thomas for open jumpers on the pick-and-roll and hit Johnson on the perimeter.
"Spree and myself, we can't take all the burden to get it done," Houston said. "I think that's kind of what happened last night when we got into foul trouble."