Anthony Mason, barely noticeable in New York's first four playoff games, made the biggest plays of all Sunday when the Knicks completed an unlikely comeback against the Chicago Bulls.
Mason converted a fastbreak layup with 48 seconds left to give the Knicks their first lead since the first quarter, then grabbed a key rebound that forced the Bulls to foul in the final seconds of New York's 90-86 victory in the series opener.
"We weren't down because there was a whole quarter and a few minutes to go," Mason said of the rally from a 15-point second-half deficit. "That's an eternity for us."
With the score 86-86, Mason broke ahead of the field, took a long pass from John Starks and scored. Then B.J. Armstrong missed for the Bulls, and when Greg Anthony's long shot with the shot clock running down grazed the rim, Mason grabbed the rebound, forcing Chicago to foul Starks for the clinching free throws.
Chicago Coach Phil Jackson said the Bulls were denied a chance to get the ball back because of an official's whistle while the ball was in the air.
"Our players stopped playing, they got the ball and we had to foul," Jackson said. "Because it was an inadvertent whistle, I think it should have been a jump ball to rectify the error."
Mason, who scored just six points in four games against New Jersey but had 11 Sunday, said he was the only player who didn't hesitate when the whistle blew.
"The only way we weren't going to get the ball is if the refs thought the ball didn't hit the rim. They thought the play was over, but I kept going."
Of his breakaway layup that put New York ahead, Mason said: "I broke loose because they were trying to pressure the ball after the miss. John finally saw me and got the ball to me."
Knick Coach Pat Riley said, "I don't know how Mason got open. It was a real backbreaker for them."
The Bulls, who eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs for three straight years en route to the NBA title, led 67-52 with 3:15 left in the third quarter, but New York outscored them 38-19 the rest of the way.
"It took us a long time to get with it," Riley said. "We were not into it physically or mentally in the first half. Then it came down to big heart and big effort.
Patrick Ewing had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Starks 17 points for the Knicks, who limited New Jersey to an average of 86.5 points in the first round.
Scottie Pippen scored 24 points and Armstrong 17 for Chicago, which lost three of four regular-season games to the Knicks in the first year since the retirement of Michael Jordan.
"I think the Knicks realize that we're going to be a much tougher opponent than everyone anticipated," Pippen said. "But even if they win four games from us, they'll know they've been in a tough series."
The Bulls, who shot 51% in the first half, missed 19 of their first 28 shots in the second, hitting 32%.
"We allowed them to shut us down in the second half," Pippen said.
Chicago, which averaged 74 points in losing its last three regular-season games to New York, extended a 10-point halftime lead to 59-44 early in the third quarter, then went nearly four minutes without scoring.
But the Knicks failed to take advantage, managing just three points. New York finished the quarter with a 10-4 spurt, closing to 71-62 going into the final 12 minutes.
Still trailing 76-66 with 10:29 to go, the Knicks scored the next eight points, closing within two, then tied it 79-79 on Mason's two free throws. New York then went 3:38 without a field goal, but when Charles Oakley converted a three-point play with 2:11 left, the score was 84-84.