’93-94 Knicks In Review, Pt. 2
Ex-players, coaches and others close to the ’93-’94 Knicks remember the postseason journey.
D’Agostino pointed out that, coming into Game 5, the Pacers had lost 11 straight games at the Garden. Their last win in New York was January 10, 1991.
Game 5 started out much like the rest of the contests that series. The Knicks won the first quarter, 28-16. They gave four points back to the Pacers in the second, but the halftime score was still in their favor, 43-35. The Knicks also won the third quarter, 27-23, to give them a 70-58 lead heading into the fourth. It looked as though the home team would win again, with the losing team unable to reach even 80 points. That’s when Miller went off.
He provided a virtuoso performance, scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter; he totaled 39 points and six three-pointers for the game. The trash talk with Knicks fan Spike Lee captured the attention of the TV audience but for the people there, it was Miller’s shotmaking – nothing else – that stole the show.
“That game, to me, that’s the greatest performance I ever saw in the Garden,” D’Agostino said.
“Well, it was a great performance by him, very poor defense by us,” Van Gundy said. “He hadn’t really hurt us [in the first three quarters]. In the fourth quarter, he exploded and we imploded.”
Miller’s fourth quarter would have been memorable had it occurred in any playoff contest. Yet he did it in the swing game of that series, with the Knicks going back to Indiana down 3-2.
“I think ‘stunned’ is too mild a word to use for Game 5,” D’Agostino said of the loss. “When you put all the elements together, the fact that we controlled the first three quarters, the fact that they had lost 11 in a row [at the Garden] and that this is basically a pivotal game in the Eastern Conference Finals…there’s never going to be a performance in the Garden that’s going to touch what Reggie did that night.”
Miller cooled down in Game 6, shooting 2-for-7 from downtown, although he still knocked off 27 points. Starks led the way for the Knicks with 26, including a 5-for-6 effort from beyond the arc. That set up the Knicks’ second consecutive Game 7 at the Garden. Unlike in the Bulls’ series, this one would be a thriller.
Down 90-89 with 34.5 seconds left, Starks received the inbounds pass from Oakley between halfcourt and the top of the three-point line. Going to his right off a pick set by Ewing, Starks attacked the basket at the right block, jumping up and missing a contested lay-up. With the ball hugging the front of the rim, Ewing closed to the hoop and dunked it in with 27 seconds left; Knicks up 91-90. But was it a legitimate dunk-in or goaltending?
“If you watch it in real-time, sometimes I say to myself, even now, ‘Damn, Patrick was in the cylinder,’” D’Agostino says, laughing. A replay angle from the floor showed that, in fact, the dunk was legit. The Knicks were up, but the Pacers had 27 seconds to answer.
On the other end, Miller fought off Starks to get around a screen and received a pass from Haywoode Workman, just inside the three-point line on the right wing. Miller caught the ball with 7.7 seconds remaining and 5 seconds on the shot clock, but he put up an airball with Oakley closely contesting the shot. With 4.2 seconds left in the game, the inbounds went quickly to Starks. Miller ran from halfcourt to the left wing opposite the Knicks bench, where Starks was positioned, with the intention of committing a foul. He did that, although referee Mike Mathis called a flagrant on Miller, presumably for him leading with both hands into Starks’ chest instead of wrapping up. (That Starks sold the foul probably worked against Miller’s favor, as well.)
Starks went to the line with 3.2 seconds left but hit just one of two flagrant shots, putting the Knicks up 92-90. Yet the flagrant foul enabled the Knicks to retain possession after the free throws; Starks received the inbounds pass again, was fouled again and, this time, hit both free throws to give the Knicks a four-point lead and entry to the NBA Finals. In a losing effort, Miller scored 25 points and went 3-for-4 from beyond the three-point line.
Greg Anthony zeroed in on Game 7 against the Pacers when asked what the most rewarding victory was that season.
“I think the seventh game of the Conference Finals. You know? [Laughs] Because we finally got over the hump,” Anthony said. “We finally got to the Finals. That was, for a few years, we had come so close and hadn’t been able to get over that hump. So, for us to get there was a huge accomplishment for everybody – the organization. That’s a proud franchise and a great city. I think that one was probably the most significant in that respect.”
NBA Finals: Houston Rockets
The Knicks had made the Finals, but this is where, for some Knicks fans, the story ends. For the Knicks players, coaches and others associated with that team, the memories of the Game 7 victories against the Bulls and Pacers are spoiled by what occurred in the next round.
The NBA Finals versus the Rockets went the distance, the Knicks establishing a record at the time of 25 playoff games. The Knicks-Rockets series is recalled for many reasons, but for almost none that the Knicks would like to remember. Sam Cassell’s three-pointer in Game 3. The NHL’s New York Rangers winning their first Stanley Cup since 1954 ahead of Game 4, putting even more pressure on the Knicks to match that with an NBA Finals victory so that the Garden’s two primary tenants could both be called champions. O.J.’s Ford Bronco chase during Game 5, a contest the Knicks would win to give themselves a 3-2 series lead. Hakeem Olajuwon’s blocked shot on Starks in Game 6. And, of course, Game 7. Starks’ 2-for-18. Vernon Maxwell’s three-point dagger. Olajuwon, who averaged 26.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.9 blocks in the Finals.
“The longer you’re in it the longer you realize the true opportunities to win big are few and far between unless you have an historical player like Jordan,” Van Gundy said.
D’Agostino said he still hasn’t watched Games 6 or 7 of the Finals from start to finish. He called it ‘stupid’ to blame Starks for each outcome. (Starks had what is now an overlooked 27 points on 9-for-18 shooting, with eight assists, in that Game 6 loss.) “Without the 10 or 12 games that John won for us, pretty much single-handedly over the course of the regular season and in the playoffs, we probably don’t get near Game 6 of the Finals,” D’Agostino said.
Anthony claimed it’s natural for him to go back in time and consider what happened in that Finals series.
“I definitely think about it, especially around the Finals, when I’m in New York,” Anthony said. “It was a tremendous honor to be a part of it. You know, it’s bittersweet. It was a great team, we had a tremendous opportunity to win a world championship and anytime you don’t achieve that goal, there’s going to be some disappointment.”
That ’93-94 Knicks team had so many great moments and were so close to going home with the Larry O’Brien trophy. Their season had taken multiple twists and turns. In some ways, that made losing a Finals even tougher to deal with had there not many so many distinctive moment along the way.
“The feeling was it took you so long to get there,” D’Agostino said. “It took you so long on the calender, 25 games on top of the 82 games you just played. It took ya eight months. It took so much effort. So much happened that year. Doc going down, the losing streak, the Reno Trip, the 15-game winning streak that followed the Reno Trip. So many things happened that year that when you get to a Game 7 and you lose it, in the back of your head it’s, ‘Now we’re going to have to do this all again?’”
When asked about the feeling of losing that Finals, Van Gundy, Williams, Anthony and Oakley were good-natured in response. Surely the sting is still there, although perhaps it isn’t felt as often as the years go on. In some ways, they have to establish a measure of closure with the situation. It doesn’t mean that 1994 Finals isn’t on the minds of every Knicks employee and every Knicks fan from that era. But life goes on, as Oakley implied.
“At the end of the day, all you want people to know is that you tried and you put effort into trying to get the championship.”
1994: March To The Finals schedule (all times 8 p.m. EST on MSG Network)
Monday, November 8: Knicks vs. Pacers Eastern Conference Finals Game 7
Thursday, November 10: Knicks at Rockets NBA Finals Game 2
Sunday, November 13: Knicks vs. Rockets NBA Finals Game 4
Monday, November 14: Knicks at Rockets NBA Finals Game 5
Photos courtesy of NBAE/Getty Images