Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks greatest foils.
For a moment there, it looked like the list of biggest disappointments in New York Knicks' playoff history was going to be one item longer, but the 2013 Knicks regained their composure in time to put away the Boston Celtics before things got really hairy.
The Knicks-Celtics rivalry goes way back. These two have met in the playoffs 15 times, the first in 1951. Only a few of those were considerable disappointments, though, and not even close to the biggest ones, either.
We’re talking about Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers, Alonzo Mourning and the Miami Heat, Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets. And then there's that other guy—what’s his name?—and the Chicago Bulls.
That’s not all. How about when New York lost three NBA Finals in a row—before any of those players were born? That’s a good, old-fashioned disappointing three-peat.
Worse than that? Three times have the Knicks lost the ultimate game: Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Alas Knickerbocker fans, there’s much to choose from. Some moments are so equally bad, they were hard to rank.
Of all the many postseason disappointments endured by the New York Knicks, this is the only one that occurred in a series they would eventually wind up winning, and so it ranks at the bottom.
This was the year Michael Jordan played baseball (1993-94), finally paving the way for Patrick Ewing and the Knicks to stomp straight through the East into the NBA Finals.
But there was this pesky Indiana Pacer, Reggie Miller, who was going to make things irritatingly difficult.
While the Knicks dismissed the Chicago Bulls in the semifinals, the Pacers knocked off the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Hawks, setting up an Eastern Finals between the two.
New York took the first two games at home and lost the next two in Indiana.
Game 5 was at the Garden.
The Knicks ran up a 70-58 lead through three quarters before Miller went off, scoring 25 in the fourth and leading the Pacers to a comeback 93-86 victory.
New York responded, though, taking the next two games. Little did the Knicks know they would soon face one of their greatest postseason disappointments ever.
Welcome, Patrick Ewing, to the NBA playoffs. Now go home.
The New York Knicks drafted Ewing first in 1985 and proceeded to miss the playoffs the next two seasons.
Finally, in 1987-88, New York snagged the No. 8 seed. But the Knicks were overmatched from the start against the East’s favorites—the Boston Celtics.
Ewing had a double-double in all four games, but it was only enough to win one.
There’s a bright side to this story for New York. After failing to make the playoffs three years in a row, this would be the start of 14-year postseason run (the longest in franchise history).
Of all 15 postseason meetings between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, this is the only one New York lost in seven.
The Knicks were an upstart No. 5 seed in 1984. They defeated the favored Detroit Pistons in Round 1, giving themselves a shot at the No. 1-seeded Celtics in the semis.
They gave it everything they had. The pre-Ewing era 1980 Knicks—Bill Cartwright, Bernard King, Rory Sparrow, Ernie Grunfeld (!)—made it a series after dropping the first two.
In the end, this was a homecourt series, each team winning at home through six games. New York’s upset dreams would be dashed in a bruising Game 7 at the Boston Garden (121-104).
The Boston Celtics one more time. Just two postseasons ago, the Celtics recorded their only four-game sweep of the New York Knicks.
That’s bad enough, but more so, this was the bitter end of a season that started out so promising.
Off arguably their worst decade in history (and losing out to the Miami Heat for LeBron James), the Knicks picked up a franchise- and clubhouse-changer in Amar’e Stoudemire.
A few months later, they traded for Carmelo Anthony, and New York was on its way to its first postseason in seven years.
But a pile of problems prevented the “New” New York Knicks from winning a single playoff game: Chauncey Billups’ knee, Stoudemire’s back and a shallow bench all conspired against New York.
The first two games were close, too. New York lost by two, then three.
The Knicks' new era didn't start out too well.
This one can be called “Ewing’s Last Dance”—or his last chance to win a title in New York.
After 15 years as the face of New York Knicks basketball, Ewing would be traded to the Seattle SuperSonics in September 2000.
But first, he, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell, Charlie Ward and young Marcus Camby and Kurt Thomas, would try one more time to win it after having lost the finals the season before.
They almost made it. After finishing off Tim Hardaway, Alonzo Mourning and the Miami Heat in a classic seven-game semifinals, New York met Reggie Miller, Knick-killer, in the Eastern Finals.
After a 3-2 start to the series with the Knicks and Indiana Pacers winning on their home courts, Indiana delivered a stunner at the Garden in Game 6, taking it in a no-contest, 93-80. Miller finished with 34 points and four steals.
Any finals loss is a painful one, but 1972 was the least disappointing of the Knicks’ six championship defeats (if such a thing can be said).
New York was still reveling—and still is today—in Willis Reed’s Game 7 feat and the 1970 title just a couple years before.
In 1972, the 48-win New York Knicks took third in the Eastern Conference and later beat the favored Boston Celtics to meet the NBA-dominating 69-13 Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.
New York took Game 1—an early move for the upset.
There was none to be. Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Pat Riley and the Lakers won the next four straight.
The Knicks would get their revenge on the Lakers the next year—winning the title in exactly the same fashion: dropping the first, then taking the next four.
After losing the championship to the Minneapolis Lakers in 1952, the New York Knicks would have a chance at redemption.
New York was ready. The Knicks won the “Eastern Division” for the first time and won 47 games, most yet. They had taken it to Game 7 of the NBA Finals two years in a row.
But in the 1953 finals, after splitting the first two in Minneapolis, New York lost the last three games at home.
That made it three NBA Finals losses in a row.
Ironically, the only other team to lose three titles in a row was the Lakers, albeit the team from Los Angeles (1968-1970).
Footnote: The NBA in the 1950s was so different than even in the 1960s and a far cry from today’s league and players. Basketball was not at all big, and the NBA struggled to survive in its early years.
For this reason, the 1950s finals losses are ranked as less disappointing than the upcoming (some non-finals) series. Surely, many more people were affected (and depressed) by what’s next.
This was just the sixth finals in NBA history and New York’s second in a row.
The Knicks weren’t even supposed to be there. They had an offseason and were forced to upset both the Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals to get to the favored Minneapolis Lakers for the championship.
The Lakers were a dominant force in the NBA before they moved to Los Angeles. They were looking for their third title in 1952.
And they got it, too, winning in a flip-flop series in which neither team won two in a row. Lucky for the Lakers, Game 7 was in Minny.
Photo courtesy AP via latimes.com.
Both the New York Knicks and Rochester Royals (now temporarily the Sacramento Kings) were members of the NBA’s inaugural league in 1949-50.
In 1951, they’d make their postseason and NBA Finals debuts.
Dick McGuire, Nat Clifton, Max Zaslofsky, Harry Gallatin and the Knicks lost the championship to the Rochester Royals in seven the hard way.
They lost the first three games, won the next three, only to lose Game 7 by four, 79-75.
Footnote: Future Knicks coaching great Red Holzman was on that Royals squad (pictured courtesy kepssportscardsandmore.com)
In all the years Patrick Ewing and the New York Knicks faced off against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the postseason, it was only in 1993 that they met in the Eastern Finals.
The Knicks were 60-22 in 1992-93, tied for the franchise’s best record ever. They took the No. 1 seed over the Bulls.
In their postseason matchup, New York won the first two at home handily. But as soon as the series moved to Chicago, it was over.
The Bulls won Game 3—a game that featured a classic fight that erupted after a John Starks-Scottie Pippen confrontation.
Jordan scored 54 in Game 4 to knot the series. Back in New York, he had a triple-double (29 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds) in the infamous “Charles Smith” Game 5.
With the Knicks down by one and about 15 seconds go, the ball found its way into Smith’s hands directly under the basket. He went up with it four times—and was blocked four times.
You can’t blame it all on Smith. The Knicks missed 15 free throws in the 97-94 loss (thanks Chris Sheridan).
Tough to rebound after that, and Game 6, mostly an afterthought, went comparatively easily to Chicago.
Sure, the New York Knicks lost three NBA Finals in the 1950s, but the league was hardly on the map then, struggling to survive.
Then, the Knicks lost the finals in 1972, too, but many of the guys on that team (Willis Reed, Walt Frazier, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett, Phil Jackson) would finish their careers with two Knicks rings anyway. That's not particularly devastating.
That leaves the two biggest finals disappointments in Knicks history—the closest Patrick Ewing ever came to hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The 1998-99 season was truncated to 50 games, thanks to a six-month lockout. New York was lucky to snag the eighth seed by a game.
They took their fortune—after a Game 5 78-77 win over the Miami Heat, a sweep of the Atlanta Hawks and running Reggie Miller’s Indiana Pacers out of town in the Eastern Finals—to a rendezvous with the as-yet untitled David Robinson, Tim Duncan and their San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio overmatched New York, four games to one. It was barely a series.
In 1990-91, the Chicago Bulls blasted through the New York Knicks, 3-0, in Round 1 on the way to their first NBA title.
In 1991-92, the reigning champs posted the best record in their franchise’s history, 67-15. The Michael Jordan title era, and years of Knicks’ postseason woes, was just getting started.
The 1992 Eastern Semifinals were probably New York’s best shot at knocking off the G.O.A.T. and disrupting the Bulls dynasty. It may have also been Ewing’s best shot at a title.
The Knicks took Game 1 in Chicago, stealing home-court advantage. But the Bulls took three of the next four, putting New York on its heels.
The Knicks stayed alive in Game 6, but Jordan owned Game 7, scoring 42 and adding three blocks, two steals and six rebounds. The Knicks lost, 110-81.
The New York Knicks-Miami Heat rivalry began, in earnest, with the 1996-97 season. Back in the 1990s, they were both in the same division, and in 1997, the Heat won the Atlantic for the first time.
But New York had Miami’s number, winning the regular-season battle, 3-1. In their first postseason meeting ever, the Knicks stole home-court advantage in Game 1, winning 88-79.
New York lost the next game, but won the next two to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Knicks looked as dominant as they did during the season, destined to take the semis and meet the Chicago Bulls for, yet another, shot at Michael Jordan.
But then, chaos erupted in a physical Game 5. With the game far into Miami’s hands and after Alonzo Mourning and Charles Oakley mixed it up a bit, the Heat’s P.J. Brown flipped and slammed the Knicks’ Charlie Ward to the ground.
Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, Larry Johnson and John Starks all jumped to Ward’s defense off the bench, while Pat Riley’s more-disciplined squad stayed put.
Brown would be suspended for the rest of the series, while all five Knicks involved would be suspended a game apiece: Ward, Ewing and Houston for Game 6 and Johnson and Starks for a possible Game 7.
Miami would win both of those games, eliminating New York from the playoffs prematurely.
Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers had been dispatched from the playoffs in 1993 and 1994 by the New York Knicks. The two teams met again in the 1995 semifinals; Indiana was hell-bent on getting past New York this time.
But the Knicks picked up where they left off, amassing a 105-99 lead in Game 1 with 18.7 seconds left on the Garden clock. What happened next is NBA history, and arguably Miller’s most memorable moment.
In what many sports writers consider the most spectacular game-ending scoring run in history -- as well as one of the most horrific end-of-the-game collapses -- Reggie Miller hit a 3-point shot with 16.4 seconds left, immediately [stole] the ensuing inbounds pass and quickly dashe[d] out to the 3-point line and drain another three to tie the game at 105 with 13.3 seconds left -- all this in a dizzying, mind-spinning span of 3.1 seconds. (via ESPN)
On the following play, John Starks was fouled. He missed both free throws. Worse, Miller, who was fouled off the second miss, hit his two free throws to ice the game and give the Pacers a shocking 1-0 series lead.
The Knicks recovered in Game 2, evening the series.
Game 3 was another classic and one New York would like to forget. After taking an eight-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Pacers tied it up and then won it in overtime.
Then, the Pacers won Game 4 and grabbed a 3-1 series lead.
But the Knicks came back. Game 5 went to New York, 96-95, after Ewing scored with under two seconds left. The Knicks won Game 6 in Indiana, setting up a fateful Game 7 in New York.
Ewing went from hero to goat in the clincher when, with time running out, and the Knicks down by two, he opted for a meek finger roll instead of a mean slam.
It missed, and the Pacers advanced.
Patrick Ewing’s quest for a ring came within three points of realization in the 1994 NBA Finals against Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets.
After splitting the first two games in Houston, the New York Knicks won two of three at home, leaving them just one win away from a title. The Rockets needed two.
The first five games were not the most thrilling—each winner led from wire to wire for the most part.
But Game 6 was a nail-biter. The Rockets held a 10-point lead, heading into the second half only to see the Knicks claw back.
With a second left and the score 86-84 in the Rockets' favor, John Starks had his title-winning three-pointer blocked by Olajuwon, forcing a Game 7 in Houston.
Starks—again—would come up empty. He shot and shot—and missed and missed—going 2-of-18 from the field and throwing away the Knicks' best title chances in over 20 years—and in the 20 years since.
The Knicks lost Game 7 and the championship, 90-84, in arguably the franchise's worst lost in history.