You wanted a confrontation? You got it.
Knicks forward Larry Johnson and Heat center Alonzo Mourning ended Game 4 of the best-of-five Eastern Conference playoff opener Thursday night with a fistfight with 1.4 seconds left, as the Knicks won 90-85 in front of 19,763 at Madison Square Garden.
Johnson and Allan Houston had 18 points. John Starks, who flew in after visiting his cancer-stricken mother in Tulsa, Okla., added 17. A layup by Houston with 52.2 seconds left and two free throws by Johnson with 14.8 seconds left sealed the victory for the Knicks.
Within seconds, no one cared about score.
"To tell you the truth, I'm embarrassed for both organizations," Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "That's my bottom line."
Added Heat coach Pat Riley: "It was 1.4 seconds left in the game. I can't believe both guys would do that. That's all. It reminds me of last year."
Riley was talking about Game 5 of last season's Eastern Conference semifinal, when P.J. Brown's flip-and-toss of Knicks point guard Charlie Ward ignited a melee that ended with Brown and five New York players getting suspended for Games 6 and 7.
The likelihood this year is that Mourning and Johnson, who threw numerous punches, will be suspended for Sunday's Game 5 in Miami.
"The whole game was a lot of cheap shots being thrown," Mourning said. "The whole game. I mean, you've got to take a stand, and L.J. crossed the line at the end. I got hit in the face twice, and enough was enough.
"I just had to take a stand. I mean, after a while, you just can't let so much go. You can't hold yourself back."
With seven seconds left, Heat guard Tim Hardaway missed a three-pointer. As Starks got the ball heading downcourt, the fight broke out under the basket.
Mourning and Johnson shoved each other. Then Johnson threw a left forearm to the back of Mourning's neck. Mourning turned and swung a wild right. Both starting flailing away.
Van Gundy ran into the fray, grabbing Mourning's leg and refusing to let go.
No players left the benches, so none are expected to be suspended. That was a mistake New York learned last season.
Tied at 47 at halftime, the Knicks opened the second half with an 11-2 run that was sparked by six straight points from Johnson. The Heat pulled within 61-60, but a slam from Chris Dudley sparked a 10-2 run, putting the Knicks up 71-62 before they ended the third up 71-64.
The Heat stormed back behind Mourning, pulling within 86-83 with 1:33 left.
Johnson was New York's lone offensive option in the post but was off late. Houston was quiet throughout the second half. Dudley was in strictly for defensive purposes against Mourning. And Miami seemed to have all the options.
But Houston's layup made it 88-83. When Mourning hit two free throws, Johnson responded with two of his own.
Apparently, though, Mourning had become increasingly frustrated with the pushing and shoving. And once Hardaway misfired on his three, another melee ensued.
"That's just us two teams," Starks said. "People may not like it, but that's the way it is."