Larry Johnson kept his favorite gesture tucked away, even as the fans pointed to their own elbows and asked for the "Big L."
"I'll throw it up, I just wasn't thinking about it in the flow of the game," Johnson said after scoring 24 points, his most in two seasons, and cementing a late 14-0 run with one of his three 3-pointers to lead the New York Knicks past the Cleveland Cavaliers 92-84 Tuesday night.
Johnson also drew criticism for making the gesture, especially when he didn't back it up by playing consistently in the championship series. No critic was more harsh than NBC's Bill Walton, who took particular umbrage with Johnson's "Big L."
"Bill told me don't be giving the Big L," Johnson said. "What did he call me? Pathetic?"
Johnson was far from pathetic on this night. It would be more apt to call him persistent and punishing. Whenever the Cavaliers tried to key on the Knicks' shooting guards, Johnson kept them honest.
Johnson also had seven rebounds and three assists and scored 10 of New York's 19 third-quarter points.
"Everybody knows we have guys that can hit shots on the perimeter, so we can't let them just key on our perimeter game. I was standing out there wide open. I don't think anybody was within 3-4 feet of me on the ones I took," he said.
The Knicks never trailed and barely had a scare against the Cavs, who were held scoreless for more than 5 1/2 minutes midway through the fourth quarter after pulling within two.
Allan Houston added 18 points, including a 3-pointer that started the game-breaking run, A href="http://www.sportsline.com/u/basketball/nba/players/6802.htm">Latrell Sprewell scored 17 and Marcus Camby added 14 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks.
Shawn Kemp had 17 to lead Cleveland in Randy Wittman's regular season coaching debut, which did not feature the type of uptempo style Wittman had promised in the post-Mike Fratello era. The Cavs had only five fast-break points.
"That's something we've been fighting because of the style of play they've become accustomed to," Wittman said. "I told the guys after the game that they may think I'm kidding, but that's the way I want to play and we're going to get guys that will play that way."
Wittman, the 12th coach in Cavs history, had Kemp on the bench early in the fourth quarter when Brevin Knight scored on a drive, Wesley Person hit a jumper and Bob Sura made a 3-pointer to pull Cleveland to 74-72. The Knicks scored the next five points before Kemp returned, and Johnson then hit a 3-pointer for an 82-72 lead.
It was the highest-scoring game for Johnson since he had 35 against Miami on Feb. 1, 1998. His high game last season was 23.
"I'd like him to stay hungry as a scorer," coach Jeff Van Gundy said. "He scores a few and then he wants to pass."
New York scored the next six points as the Cavs were struggling through an 0-for-8 stretch with three turnovers, and Sprewell made it 88-72 on two foul shots with 5:01 left.
Sprewell made the first basket of the game, an 18-footer, and the Knicks opened a 16-7 lead in a 3-pointer by Houston just over five minutes in. The lead grew to 15 on a putback by Camby with 4:14 left in the first, and the best Cleveland could do over the rest of the half was pull within three points midway though the second quarter.
New York's lead wasn't endangered during the third quarter, although the Cavs quickly made it close in the fourth.
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