Jeff Van Gundy survived his annual bout with job insecurity.
For the fourth time in Van Gundy's four seasons as coach of the Knicks, someone reported that he was about to be fired. This time, it was NBC saying he'd be axed if the Knicks didn't win Sunday night.
No one got a chance to see if the prediction would come true because the Knicks, finally finishing a game with some flourish, defeated the Charlotte Hornets 94-86.
"I'll let you all speculate on that," Van Gundy said when asked if he thought the victory had saved his job.
Other weren't so coy.
"There was no truth to it, it was ridiculous and I'm not going to dignify it with any more comment," general manager Ernie Grunfeld said.
"What? Now that we didn't lose it's not going to happen? C'mon," center Chris Dudley said.
Larry Johnson finished with 19 points, Latrell Sprewell had 16, Dudley had his best game of the season with seven points and 13 rebounds and the Knicks closed the game with a 13-5 run.
Allan Houston led New York with 20 points, although he did not score in the fourth quarter.
It was just the fourth victory in the last 10 games for the Knicks, whose mediocre start has been marked by an alarming lack of effort and a series of late-game flops. Van Gundy has blamed himself for the constant letdowns.
NBC reported Sunday afternoon that Van Gundy would be fired if the Knicks lost, and the coach seemed to take this report more seriously than he took similar reports in the past.
"It's part of the business. And if we play like we did in Chicago, someone's got to pay," Van Gundy said, making a reference to his team's abysmal effort Friday night when they managed only 33 points through three quarters.
In this game, the Knicks used their trademark defense to decide things down the stretch.
David Wsley hit a 3-pointer for Charlotte with 5:56 left, cutting the Hornets' deficit to 80-79, but that would be their last field goal until Eddie Jones tipped in a rebound with 1:22 left.
In the interim, the Knicks outscored Charlotte 13-3, with Sprewell scoring five points and Johnson four.
"I don't think Jeff's job had anything to do with this," Houston said. "There was a pride factor. That Chicago loss stuck in our minds."
Jones led Charlotte with 23 points, and Derrick Coleman had 17.
Elden Campbell, playing in his first game for the Hornets, missed his first four shots and finished with eight points and nine rebounds in 39 minutes.
"I know I'm going to play 30 minutes a night, and tonight was maybe the second time I've done that all year," Campbell said. "I'm just glad I got that out of the way. Although you know I wish we had a victory."
The key stretch came midway through the fourth quarter after Wesley hit his 3-pointer. Sprewell hit a jumper with 4:36 left, making it 83-80, and Jones missed at the other end. Jones then appeared to make a clean block of a shot by Johnson, but rookie referee Bill Kennedy called it a foul.
Johnson made the first free throw, grabbed his own rebound after missing the second and fed Sprewell for a jumper that made it 86-80.
After that, the Hornets never made a final run.
"We've been thrown together and haven't had much chance to practice, and we were not that fluid tonight at all," coach Paul Silas said. "In time, I can see really good things for this ballclub."
Notes: Van Gundy, discussing his job security before the game, somehow knew that his career coaching record includes 83 losses. ... The Knicks began a stretch of three games in three nights. They travel to Milwaukee on Monday, carrying a five-game road losing streak, then play at home against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday. They went 1-2 in their first stretch of three games in three nights. ... Coleman was playing for the first time after missing four games with a sprained foot. ... The Knicks were playing their third straight game without Patrick Ewing (Achilles tendinitis). ... Johnson turned 30 Sunday.
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