By Ben Horney, Knicks fan since '94
Tonight the Knicks face elimination for the first time this season. It's a nervous time for Knicks fans, who have had championship aspirations ever since the Knicks jumped out to an 18-5 record to start the season.
They are fighting an uphill battle against history -- only eight teams have ever come back to win a series after trailing 3-1. But before you let yourself agonize over the season's potential end, remember that the Knicks have not only battled history in the past -- they've beaten it, too.
14 years ago today, on May 16, 1999, the eighth-seeded Knicks shocked the one-seeded Heat in Game 5 of the first round of the playoffs -- in Miami -- becoming just the second eight seed in NBA history (at the time) to defeat a No. 1 seed.
After taking a surprising 2-1 lead in the series, the Knicks dropped Game 4 at home. Suddenly, they found themselves traveling to Miami for the final game, having lost all the momentum. They started Game 5 slowly, going down as much as 13 in the first quarter, but the resilient Knicks battled back to tie the game behind a Latrell Sprewell and Chris Childs-led 13-0 run.
In the third quarter, though, the Knicks' will was once again put to the test, when Patrick Ewing -- who was already suffering from an injured Achilles tendon -- came down with an injury to his side. Still, Ewing was able to invoke the spirit of Willis Reed, hobbling his way to 22 points and 11 rebounds for the game, including a huge, game-saving board as the clock wound down in the final period.
With the Heat up, 77-74, and just 58 seconds to play, the Knicks needed a bucket. After Sprewell launched and missed a jumper, the injured Ewing somehow corralled the rebound, which led to two Sprewell free throws, bringing the Knicks within one. Sprewell then stripped the ball from Tim Hardaway with 24 seconds to go, giving the Knicks a chance to go for the win.
On the ensuing play, Terry Porter knocked the ball away from Sprewell and out of bounds, but the Knicks retained possession. With just 4.5 seconds on the clock -- and potentially in their season -- the Knicks prepared to inbound the ball, down one.
Allan Houston caught the inbounds pass and drove into the lane, putting up a tear-drop shot that -- seemingly in slow motion -- bounced off the front rim, hit the backboard and dropped through the net, giving the Knicks the 78-77 victory. History had been written.
"I got a friendly bounce from up above," Houston told the Associated Press after the game.
Tonight against the Pacers, the Knicks face an obstacle that is just as daunting as their attempt to topple the top seed 16 years ago. As they prepare to take the court they only have to look to their current assistant general manager, Allan Houston, who can confidently tell them that, with the right effort and a perhaps a lucky bounce or two, even the unlikeliest of victories is possible.
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