NEW YORK, May 5 (AP)
-- Vince Carter
wore a smile of vindication, pride and satisfaction. Latrell Sprewell
spoke angrily, like a man who had been abandoned by his teammates.
|Vince Carter outdueled Latrell Sprewell in Friday's playoff showdown.|
Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE Photos
|NBA.com TV highlights: 28.8+ |
The Toronto Raptors won their first playoff series and sent the New York Knicks to first-round elimination for the first time in a decade with a 93-89 victory Friday night.
"The monkey is off our back. We're moving on to bigger and better things," Carter said. "We saw this as a good opportunity to make a name for this franchise."
Indeed they did, and a big reason why was because of the way Carter validated himself as a superstar. Playing with poise all night and scoring 27 points, Carter helped the Raptors maintain their fragile composure down the stretch to hold off New York's comeback from a 12-point deficit.
"We did a great job of relaxing and playing like we were the team that had been there before -- which we hadn't," Carter said. "As a team, and personally, we grew together and brought each other along together."
Carter and the Raptors took control in the third quarter and held off the undersized, foul-plagued, mistake-prone Knicks in the fifth and deciding game of their first-round series to send New York to its earliest playoff exit since 1991.
Toronto moves on to a second-round series against Philadelphia beginning Sunday, while the Knicks headed off to the longest summer any of them have had in a long time.
Carter wasn't a one-man show, though.
As he had insisted throughout the series, basketball is a team game. And on this night, in the most important game in Raptors history, they were more of a team than the Knicks.
added 18 points, Antonio Davis
had 14, Charles Oakley
12 and Chris Childs
10. Most importantly, the Raptors didn't get too rattled -- although they came close -- when the Knicks pulled within two points on four separate occasions and within one point once in the final quarter.
Sprewell scored 29 points for the Knicks, who missed every shot they needed in the final two minutes.
"There were times when I felt I had to carry the load for our team," a visibly upset Sprewell said. "It was on my shoulders. I left it all out there on the floor and I'm exhausted right now. I don't know if everybody left it all out on the floor."
added 16 points and Marcus Camby
shot 5-for-7 and had 11 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes before fouling out with 6:15 left. Glen Rice
shot 2-for-10, missing all four of his fourth-quarter shots.
The key statistic was second-chance points, with the Raptors outscoring New York 17-7 in that category as they kept the Knicks off the offensive glass all night.
"Yeah, they really outworked us," Houston said. "Their strength was their rebounding and they simply overpowered us."
The game turned Toronto's way in the third quarter after the Knicks pulled to 56-53 but then went four minutes without a basket. Oakley put back an offensive rebound, Carter scored four straight points and Davis drew Camby's fourth foul and made both free throws for a 64-57 lead.
Thomas picked up his fourth foul with five minutes left in the third, and Davis hit both foul shots and then scored over Othella Harrington
. A jumper by Childs made it 70-57 with 2:48 left in the third, and Houston picked up his fifth foul 13 seconds later.
A foul shot by Jerome Williams
gave Toronto a 71-59 lead early in the fourth, but the Raptors started feeling the pressure and getting sloppy with the ball and the Knicks finally started grabbing some offensive rebounds.
Thomas scored twice on putbacks in an 8-0 run that pulled the Knicks to 73-71, but Carter hit a 3-pointer with 6:53 left. A 3 by Charlie Ward
again made it a two-point game, but Alvin Williams
scored Toronto's next five points, Childs hit a 17-footer and Davis scored on a turnaround from the baseline to make it 85-80 with 2:52 left.
A dunk by Sprewell and a bank shot by Thomas made it 81-80, but Childs answered with a jumper, Glen Rice
missed a 3 and Sprewell missed a putback. Sprewell made it a two-point game on a three-point play with 2:28 left, but Toronto scored the next six points as the Knicks were missing two jumpers and committing a turnover.
made two free throws with 32 seconds left, making it 91-83 and sending the fans heading toward the exits.
Just like in Game 4, the Knicks shot great from the field in the first half (56 percent) yet still managed to fall behind. The Raptors held a 49-43 halftime lead behind 12 second-chance points and a 14-2 run that began with a 3-pointer by Carter and turned a 29-27 deficit into a 41-31 lead.
The Knicks grabbed only one offensive rebound in the first half as Harrington, Thomas and Houston each picked up three fouls. Davis picked up two fouls in the first 4:15 of the game but never got whistled for a third.
The Knicks were called for 27 fouls; Toronto for 19.
This was the Knicks' first must-win playoff game at Madison Square Garden since 1995, when Patrick Ewing
missed a game-tying finger roll at the buzzer against Indiana in the Eastern Conference semifinals. "I remember. He went right past me," said Toronto's Antonio Davis
, who played for Indiana in that game. ... Oakley gave Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy
a playful shove in the second quarter. Van Gundy stumbled backward but seemed to take it with good humor.