Marcus proves it 'Camby' done
By Jay Greenberg, The New York Post, 6/6/1999

THERE were Pacers, Pacers, everywhere, surrounding the basket as far as Larry Bird couldn't bear to see when Larry Johnson rimmed out with 1:35 to go and Indiana up by five.

''One rebound will win the game and three guys are standing there,'' said the Indiana coach. ''And Marcus Camby came from 15 feet back and tips it out and they score off the play.''

Out of Ernie Grunfeld's faith, up from the ashes, through about as much room as Dave Checketts found for compromise between his GM and coach, Camby flew to redemption. He seized the moment, kept the ball alive for Latrell Sprewell, killed the belief that when the going gets tough, Camby would never be tough enough to keep going.

Indiana let Game 3 sit there and sit there, almost as long as Jeff Van Gundy let Camby sit for half a season for the purposes of either winning the next game or a hissing contest with Grunfeld, depending upon whom you want to believe.

With the Knicks two games away from the NBA Finals, the only belief that remains relevant is Camby's faith in himself. He never gave up, and neither did the Knicks last night in a Game 3 Indiana led by eight with 4:34 to play. They hung and hung and hung until the Pacers hung themselves for the second time in three games. Larry Johnson made a four-point play on the most discontinued continuation you will ever see, but some nights ultimately you will get the break if the other team can't break your will.

Camby was indomitable. He had 21 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks in 33 minutes he was not supposed to be able to withstand in a series against the rough and tough Davis boys. Last night, they couldn't stuff the human pipe cleaner back into its can.

''I thought Marcus was dominant tonight,'' said Van Gundy. ''He rebounded, finished around the basket, made two free throws to cut it to one to give us a chance at the miracle.''

The coach believed in miracles at one point more than he believed in Camby, a fugitive from an expansion team who had great length and whom Grunfeld believed Van Gundy was going to unnecessary lengths to bury. The kid couldn't hit a free throw to save a GM's job all year, but after Latrell Sprewell's drive put the ball in the Knick forward's hands with 13.8 seconds left and Antonio Davis put Camby on the line, he hit two to keep the Knicks breathing.

To say they won a game Indiana had no business losing is no contradiction of terms, because opportunity knocked as hard as Camby was knocked most of the season for being a bad fit for the rough, tough Eastern Conference.

''All I wanted all year long was to get in the game and prove myself,'' he said again last night. ''I never lost confidence in my game. I waited for the opportunity to come.''

Wedged between the GM's stone insistence that the Knicks had to get younger and quicker and coach's hard-headed belief that defense and rebounding have to come ahead of anything, Camby made himself as comfortable as possible.

It was tough. Charles Oakley had been traded for a guy who could fill the lane, but couldn't post up Lois Lane. The one thing the kid could do well was block shots coming from the weak side, which was never more appropriately named than when Camby was manning it.

But a round peg has worked his way into the square hole. Camby has come on and on, to change games and minds. He was even started by Van Gundy in last night's second half, which began with the Knicks down five.

''We [had] struggled to score,'' said the coach. ''They were trying to hide [Chris] Mullin on [Chris] Dudley and I wanted them to have to guard Marcus in the post.

''Without Patrick [Ewing], obviously we still have to get the ball into the paint. And when Chris [Childs] did penetrate, Marcus did a good job finishing open seams and he got the ball in the basket.

''He was our unexpected source of offense. He was huge. He did a great, great job.''

Tomorrow night, Camby will have to do it again, if not shoot 9-for-13 then at least be as active as he was last night and as resilient as he has proven all season. He wasn't supposed to be able to cope with the Pacers. Now it looks as if the Pacers can't cope with him.

The coach's mind has been opened, like the court, as the quicker Knicks three times now have made favored Indiana look afraid to close out a game.

''Marcus played the game of his life,'' said Reggie Miller. In fact, he played like the game was his life, which is what the coach wanted to see all along. Now he knows that Marcus Camby is not only all arms and legs, but it turns out, heart, too.


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