’93-94 Knicks In Review, Pt. 2
Ex-players, coaches and others close to the ’93-’94 Knicks remember the postseason journey.
Game 1 was a 90-86 win for the Knicks, as Scottie Pippen’s 24 points and seven assists were countered by Ewing’s 18 and 12 as well as John Starks’ 17 points off the bench. (Starks was in a reserve role for the Nets series and first two games of the Bulls series after recuperating from left knee surgery. He tore cartilage in the knee in a March 9 game versus the Hawks and subsequently missed the rest of the regular season.)
Twenty-plus point efforts from Pippen, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong in Game 2 still couldn’t stop the Knicks. Behind 26 points from Ewing and 28 combined bench points from Starks and Anthony Mason, the Knicks won, 96-91, and took a 2-0 series lead back to Chicago for the second consecutive year. This is the point at which the Bulls took over the previous year, when they rolled off four straight victories to advance to the Finals.
Game 3 in ’94 would be momentous, although for reasons that ended up hurting the Knicks, in more ways than one.
Chicago was leading 50-40 with a little under three minutes to go before halftime when a fight broke out. This wasn’t any old pushing and shoving match that would eventually be broken up by the refs. This was a fight between rivals.
During a Knicks offensive possession, Bulls guard Jo Jo English had given Derek Harper an elbow – where on Harper’s body it isn’t clear – as Grant committed a foul on Mason underneath the basket. English and Harper, on the right wing beyond the three-point line, began talking trash. English then pushed Harper, with Harper almost immediately pushing back. Harper then took a punch at English, whereupon English, at this point half-running, pushed Harper back to the halfcourt line, near TNT’s courtside table. As he was being charged away from the court and toward the crowd, Harper grabbed English’s jersey and threw him to the floor as they crashed into the courtside seats. A minute-long melee broke out from there, with English and Harper eventually getting ejected.
D’Agostino was sitting 20 rows behind the basket where Grant had just fouled Mason. “I remember I couldn’t see a hell of a lot because it was just a tangle of bodies,” he said. “I look at the replay of it today and I see it a lot clearer than I saw back then.”
The game would go on, and the Bulls’ lead would diminish. Go all the way to the end of the fourth quarter; the Bulls were up 102-100 with 5.5 seconds left and the Knicks inbounding from in front of the TNT table near halfcourt.
Mason inbounded the ball to Starks in the left corner, opposite the corner of the Bulls’ bench. Starks fed it to Ewing a couple feet off the left block. Ewing, with Bill Cartwright covering him, made a move to the middle of the lane and attempted a baby hook from just inside the dotted circle, a la Magic Johnson against the Boston Celtics in ’87. The shot went in with 1.8 seconds left to tie the contest. And that’s when the confusion began.
In the Bulls’ huddle, head coach Phil Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc to take the last shot. Pippen, who had led the Bulls to that point in the playoffs with what had been his finest season as a pro, was to play a decoy. He couldn’t accept that, walking out of the bench area and heading to the locker room with the game still in progress.
Without their best player, the Bulls took their side of the court with Pete Myers handling the in-bound pass from halfcourt. Finding Kukoc with single coverage from Mason at the top of the free throw circle, Myers lobbed it into Kukoc. Kukoc had boxed out Mason, with Mason’s back to the inbounding sideline. A lefty, Kukoc had cleared the way for him to catch, turn to his right and attempt a last-second shot. The shot went in, the Bulls won and the series had been cut to 2-1.
Despite the win, the Bulls were in a dour mood given that Pippen had abandoned the team.
“The key thing about the game is not so much what happened on the court but what happened in the locker room after,” Gaines said. “This is where people don’t understand the impact of Bill Cartwright. Because Bill Cartwright and Scottie were captains of that team. And Bill basically cried in front of Scottie and in front of the team. I don’t know Bill’s words at the time…but [he said] that you can’t do that. You cannot take that kind of stand at that kind of moment. Bill’s contribution to the Bulls, not only in that year but through the Jordan years, was that he was able to lead and able to confront the stars.”
Whatever state of mind the Bulls had heading into Game 4, the English-Harper fight and Pippen’s absence at the end didn’t seem to negatively affect them. They won Game 4, 95-83, with Pippen putting in 25 points. English and Harper had each been suspended for two games following Game 3; the effect on the Knicks was far greater since Harper played a larger role with them than English did with the Bulls. Gaines conceded the two-game suspensions for English and Harper didn’t equally affect each team.
“That’s what you call a hell of a trade. [Laughs] Jo Jo for Derek,” Gaines said.