Basketball: Knicks overcome the odds to reach finals

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The Independent Online
THE New York Knicks have surprised everybody - probably including themselves - by fighting their way to the NBA title series.

Allan Houston scored 32 points and Latrell Sprewell added 20 as the underdogs overcame a first-half injury to Larry Johnson to become the first eighth- seeded team to reach the finals, with a 90-82 victory over Indianapolis.

Johnson scored eight points before suffering a right-knee strain in the second quarter, leaving the Knicks, already without injured centre Patrick Ewing, in dire straits.

But they refused to give in, outscoring the Pacers 31-23 in the fourth quarter and winning the Eastern Conference final series 4-2.

Victory came at the end of a chaotic, painful and sometimes emotional season. The team's manager, Ernie Grunfeld, was sacked when they were stuck at 21-21 with eight games left in the season. They lost Ewing four games ago to a torn Achilles tendon. And Johnson left the game halfway through the second quarter with sprained ligaments in his right knee.

Yet somehow they made it through, unleashing a wave of emotion at Madison Square Garden as a huge roar exploded from the crowd. It was "the will of millions of New Yorkers fused into one ghastly sound," the New York Times wrote, as they advanced to the NBA finals for the first time since 1994. Spike Lee danced gleefully at the courtside.

The next step will be more difficult still. They face the Spurs on Wednesday in San Antonio, a team that is fresh, rested and coming off a great season; a team which boasts in Tim Duncan and David Robinson two of the hottest players around. The Spurs are on a 10-game post-season winning streak. They may play without Johnson. And the Knicks have not won the title in 26 years.

Their victory owes much to the hard work of replacement guard Chris Childs who contributed nine points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals. He was subbed into the game in the first quarter to replace flagging Charlie Ward.

The Los Angeles Lakers have offered Phil Jackson a four-year, $24m (pounds 14.7m) deal and he is likely to take it, reports said yesterday. Jackson, who built the Chicago Bulls into probably the greatest team the sport has ever seen, left after repeated run-ins with management, triggering the retirement of Michael Jordan.

"It's been a wild season," Marcus Camby said. "Our goal's still not complete. We're on an emotional high. We'll have to find a way to win."