By Ben Horney, Knicks fan since '94
The Knicks of the 90s always had one man in their way: Michael Jordan. Jordan’s Bulls had rattled off three straight championships, and had eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs in four of the five previous seasons going into the 1993-94 campaign. But then suddenly and without warning, Jordan retired to try his hand at baseball, leaving the Eastern Conference wide open for the taking.
Behind Patrick Ewing, the Knicks saw that opening and ran with it — winning 57 games and taking the second seed in the East. And yet, even with Jordan out of the league, the Knicks found themselves once again facing a familiar opponent in the Eastern Conference semifinals: the Bulls.
Despite having lost the best player in the league, the Bulls refused to go down easily. The series went seven games, and after a lackluster Game 6 effort from the Knicks (a 14-point loss), Game 7 — which took place at Madison Square Garden 19 years ago today — had the pressure on New York.
The Bulls held Ewing scoreless for the entire first half, but the Knicks managed to go into the break up, 38-37. Ewing finally got on the board in the third quarter, but the Bulls stormed ahead, leading 63-59 with less than three minutes to play in the period. With the game and their season starting to slowly slink away, the Knicks needed a rally. They got one, going on an 8-0 run to end the quarter, capped off by a Greg Anthony 3-pointer from right in front of the Bulls bench with just four seconds remaining in the third, giving the Knicks a four-point lead going into the final quarter.
The Knicks held the Bulls to just 14 fourth quarter points, never letting them come within closer than three points. With six minutes to play, Ewing banked in a three-pointer to put the Knicks up ten, 80-70, and the Knicks and the MSG crowd truly began to sense that they were within range of finally vanquishing the beast.
“When Pat banked in that three I felt confident the game was meant for us,” Knicks point guard Derek Harper told the Baltimore Sun after the game.
With the game decided, Ewing got to soak up the final 30 seconds of the game from the sidelines, as he marched back and forth with his arms raised to the ceiling, relishing everything — the crowd, the victory and the conquering of demons.
The final score was 87-77, as the Knicks ended the Bulls reign atop the NBA. Ewing led the way with 18 points (all in the second half) 17 rebounds and six assists. Charles Oakley finished with 17 points and 20 rebounds (11 offensive). Charles Smith added 11 and John Starks had 10.
While those Knicks failed to win it all that year — they were eventually vanquished by Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets – they captivated New York much like this year’s Knicks. Those Ewing-led teams were competitive every year; and even though they never captured that elusive title, they are still remembered fondly because of how hard they fought for the city, year in and year out. Knicks fans value the fight, the heart and the work ethic that those Knicks showed. If today’s Knicks continue to show the same effort that the Knicks of the 90s gave us, then 19 years from now we’ll remember them just as fondly.
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images