Knicks face elimination Sunday

NEW YORK (AP) -- After spending the morning taking trash talk to
a new level, Kenyon Martin made a bigger statement on the court.

Martin ended a late offensive drought with a key three-point
play in the final 30 seconds, and the New Jersey Nets outlasted a
feisty effort from the Knicks to defeat New York 81-78 Thursday
night for a 3-0 lead in their first-round series.

"I kept my mouth shut and let my play speak for itself,"
Martin said. "I said everything I wanted to say this morning."

The first two games in this series were lopsided in favor of the
Nets, but the Knicks managed to keep this one competitive. The fans
were on their feet for the final several minutes of the first
playoff game at Madison Square Garden in three years.

New Jersey scored just six points over the final 4 minutes, and
it was barely enough as New York couldn't come all the way back
after trailing by as many as 14.

"Luck had nothing to do with what we've done," said New
Jersey's Richard Jefferson, who nearly had a triple-double. "We
played extremely hard, we played the right way."

Game 4 will be Sunday, with the Knicks facing a task no NBA team
has ever accomplished -- coming back from a 3-0 deficit to win a
seven-game series.

Martin led New Jersey with 19 points and 15 rebounds, Jason Kidd
had 19 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, and Jefferson had
17 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

"Nobody panicked. We kept our composure," Kidd said.

Stephon Marbury scored 10 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter
but shot just 7-for-23 for New York. He was fouled behind the
3-point line with 3 seconds remaining and the Knicks down by three,
but the officials ruled he was in the act of passing, not shooting,
and awarded him two foul shots instead of three.

"I'm not commenting about no officiating," Marbury said. "We
got better, but it wasn't enough to win."

The atmosphere going into the game was unusually tense because
of the verbal back-and-forth between Knicks forward Tim Thomas and
Martin that stemmed from a flagrant foul by Jason Collins in Game 1
that has kept Thomas sidelined since.

Thomas had called Martin a phony tough guy on Wednesday, and
Martin took part in the Nets' morning practice wearing the back
page of a newspaper with the headline "Whiny Tim" taped across
his jersey. He then insulted Thomas for several minutes.

"Lock me and him in a room together and see who comes out,"
Martin said.

Thomas, who has a bruised back, hip and ankle, spent the night
in street clothes on the end of the Knicks' bench. Martin never
gestured to Thomas or said anything to him.

"There's no more talking from me," Martin said.

Kidd hit two 3-pointers and Martin finished a 3-on-2 break with
a dunk to make it 65-53 in the third quarter -- Martin drawing boos
from the crowd as he strutted backward down the court.

Marbury finally had his first second-half basket of the series
early in the fourth quarter, and he hit a 20-footer with 2:09 left
to make it a two-point game.

Martin missed two foul shots 19 seconds later, but Jefferson
gave the Nets a four-point lead before Penny Hardaway's 3-pointer
made it 77-76 with 42 seconds left. The Knicks then nearly forced a
turnover, but the ball ended up in Martin's hands and he scored
over Kurt Thomas -- drawing a foul in the process -- for a
three-point play and an 80-76 lead.

"Mental toughness more than anything helped us out tonight,"
Martin said.

Kidd missed the second of two free throws to leave the score
81-78 with 18 seconds left, and Marbury was eventually fouled. He
came up short on his first attempt, then missed the second
intentionally only to have the Nets grab the rebound. Jefferson
held the ball high in the air as the game ended.

"You never want to say losing is good, but we did improve
tonight," Knicks center Nazr Mohammed said.

Early on, it looked as though this game would get away from the
Knicks as quickly as the first two had. New York didn't score its
first point until more than 3 minutes had elapsed, and the Nets
led 25-15 after one quarter.

New York worked its way back while Kidd, Martin and Jefferson
rested. Kurt Thomas, playing despite three fouls, hit a jumper to
give the Knicks their first lead, 34-33 with 4:26 left, and Shandon
Anderson drew a huge cheer when he flagrantly fouled Jefferson on a
fast-break layup attempt. It was 40-40 at halftime.

Game notes
Magic Johnson was one of the many celebrities in
attendance. ... Knicks C Dikembe Mutombo played only 2 minutes as
coach Lenny Wilkens was forced to remove him when the Nets went to
a small lineup with Rodney Rogers at center. ... Marbury played 48