This Fourth Quarter Gives Rockets a Splitting Headache : NBA finals: Knicks regain their shooting touch to even series, 91-83, with next three games at the Garden.

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They are fatigued. They weren’t ready for the pressure defense on their guards. They are failing in the fourth quarter, when so many championships are won.

Has anyone mentioned to the Houston Rockets that this is the NBA finals and not training camp?

That bullet they dodged Wednesday circled back on Friday and didn’t miss. The Rockets, who escaped in Game 1, paid for the fourth-quarter collapse this time with their home-court advantage, gone after the New York Knicks dominated the final 6 1/2 minutes to claim a 91-83 victory before 16,611 at the Summit and even the best-of-seven series at one game each.


“We probably gave the Houston Rockets a wake-up call,” Knick Coach Pat Riley said. “The playoffs don’t get interesting until the home team losses.”

Consider them interesting.

The Rockets have staggered through the championship series, making only two of 13 shots in the fourth quarter while holding on to win the opener and then making that seem like the varsity squad come Game 2. Amazing as it is, considering this is the biggest series of their lives, they need that wake-up call. An air-raid siren might-- might-- do the trick.

Or this might:

The Rockets led, 79-76, with 6:32 left.

The next 11 possessions resulted in five misses, including one airball, one trip to the line for two free throws and seven turnovers. To be more exact, they had two shots blocked by Patrick Ewing, threw two bad passes and had three other balls stolen.

By the time they regained conciousness, the Rockets trailed, 89-81, with 44 seconds left. All that remained was to finish the game and a run of 12 consecutive errant shots over that last 6:32. Then someone had to run and get the smelling salts.

“I feel like we were not mentally ready for what they threw at us,” Houston Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. “And we talked about those things. Talk is one thing; reality is another.”

Said Riley: “We take great pride in the fourth quarters. I thought the other night, we played strong. As soon as the guys started to sense we could win this game if we hit some shots, there was no fatigue factor on our part.”

The Knicks have yet to cop the tired plea, even though they were the ones who went from back-to-back seven-game matchups to get into the finals on two days’ rest. The Rockets, who had eight days off after breezing through the Western Conference finals against Utah, are fatigued. Worn out.


New York’s guards can take partial credit. Noteworthy only in their absence in Game 1 while going a combined 10 of 41 from the field, they re-emerged Friday with big performances.

Derek Harper went from three of 10 to seven of 11, including four of six on three-pointers. Two of those long-range shots were especially significant, coming in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the game en route to 18 points and seven assists. Ewing, who had 16 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots, said it was Harper’s best game since getting a release from purgatory in the Jan. 6 trade that sent him from Dallas to New York.

John Starks went from three of 18, including two of eight on three-pointers, to six of 11 overall and three of four from long distance. He finished with 19 points and nine assists in 40 minutes, looking more aggressive in the process by driving inside as well as pulling up.

“I was very patient, and that’s what I have to be,” Starks said. “I know sooner or later the ball is going to come to me and I’ll get my shots.”

Said Riley: “They didn’t hesitate. Derek wasn’t thinking about it. He caught the ball and stepped right into it.”

The Knicks shot 52.2%, a staggering figure for them. But of equal importance, Ewing and Anthony Mason, despite giving away five inches, combined to hold Hakeem Olajuwon to seven rebounds, one on offense. That’s when 25 points doesn’t seem so bad.


With that momentum, the Knicks head back to Madison Square Garden, where they are 9-1 in the playoffs. The Rockets should set their alarm for Sunday and Game 3. After that, Game 4 is Wednesday and Game 5 is Friday.

“We’re just going to take it one game at a time,” Ewing said. “We’re not going to worry about momentum and all that. We’re just going to home, where our fans are rowdy.”

And their future suddenly brighter.


Houston is playing just fine for 36 minutes--unfortunately for the Rockets, the NBA game lasts 48. C4