OK... now I've crossed the line into completely irrational optimistic fantasies. Hey, I grew up watching the Mets in the late 70's. This is the kind of scenario I dreamed up to get me through the tough times, when M.Donald Grant was the owner and Bruce Boisclair was batting cleanup......
* * *
Finally, Mike Woodson had had enough. He knew he had lost his team. He was in over his head. Sure, he had kept the team together through a lot of ups and downs. That was his strong point. He had made sure everyone put the team first.
But he needed wily veterans, and he knew it. Mike Woodson just couldn't understand certain things about basketball. When he was a rookie with the Knicks, Red Holzman had raked him over the coals for not understanding the finer points of spacing, defense, and passing. He understood how to take a ball and dribble it and put it in the basket. But he didn't understand the other stuff.
Once Glen was demoted, Woodson knew he was in trouble. Glen had made sure there were guys like Kidd, Sheed, and Kurt Thomas around, to keep the team on top of the more complex stuff. Meanwhile, Woodson concentrated on reaching guys he understood, guys like J.R. Smith, Bargnani, and Melo to a certain extent.
Kidd had figured that if he was going to coach, he might as well BE the coach. Sheed was gone. Kurt Thomas was gone. And he was alone, and lost.
He figured he'd get fired, but Dolan was a stubborn son of a bitch. He didn't want to pay Woodson to be home with his family. Woodson had told himself he wouldn't quit, was counting on his salary for his family. But It was over. Dolan had won. On March 5, 2014, Mike Woodson resigned as coach of the Knicks, quitting on his team and forsaking his salary in the name of his mental health.
In the interim, Dolan elevated Jim Todd to coach the rest of the season. Dolan actually figured the team would respond better to Herb Williams, but Dolan didn't want a repeat of 1999, when the Knicks missed out on a chance to hire Phil Jackson due to a historic run helmed by Jeff Van Gundy. So, though Todd was thought of as a somewhat dry and uninspiring figure, he took the helm.
In a shocking development, Herb Williams then 'retired' from his position. Teflon Herb had survived the firings of approximately 80 coaches. But now he too was gone. The despair in Knickland hit an all time low.
That night, the Knicks had a game in Minnesota. Todd didn't say a word to the team. But when he posted that night's starting lineup, he sent the clearest communication possible.
Starting a lineup of Toure Murry, Shannon Brown, Earl Clark, Jeremy Tyler, and Cole Aldrich, and playing them all 48 minutes, the Knicks fought hard, Finally the exhausted team was defeated when Murry's three pointer swirled around the rim and out, preserving an 87-85 Minnesota victory.
It would be the last playing time of the year for Shannon Brown and Earl Clark.
It would also be the last regular season game the Knicks would lose.
After that game, Todd addressed his team and gave them his plan. Only Cole Aldrich believed it.
* * *
Two days later, the Knicks hosted the Utah Jazz. Expectations were low in the Garden, though there was a glimmer of hope due to the coaching change. Todd trotted out a starting lineup of Felton, Prigioni, Shumpert, Anthony, and Chandler. Halfway through the first quarter, Anthony was hacked on a drive to the basket, but no foul was called. He jawed at the referee as he ran backwards down the court. On the other end, he missed his assignment and the other team scored. Todd called timeout and replaced Anthony with Amar'e Stoudemire. On the next possession, Chandler was called for a foul on a clean block. He jawed with the referee. Bam, timeout, Chandler went to the bench, replaced by Aldrich.
Feeding Stoudemire, the Knicks cruised to a 10 point lead, before Stoudemire got confused on defense and was taken out of the game, replaced by Anthony.
At no point in the game did Hardaway share the court with Stoudemire.
Down the stretch, a lineup of Prigioni, Shumpert, Anthony, Stoudemire, and Chandler withstood a Utah comeback and won by 6.
Stoudemire and Hardaway never again shared the court in non-garbage time minutes for the rest of the season.
The return of Kenyon Martin pushed Tyler out of the rotation, but not for long, as minor injuries to Stoudemire and Chandler thrust him back into the rotation, where he contributed positively.
The Knicks beat Cleveland by 10, Philadelphia by 20, Boston by 18, and Milwaukee by 22. The suddenly streaking Knicks welcomed the now-powerhouse Pacers to the Garden on Wednesday March 19. Were the Knicks for real? America was about to find out.
Riding a barrage of 3 pointers from Shumpert and Hardaway Jr, and a breakout performance from Amar'e Stoudemire with 32 points, the Knicks beat the Pacers by 34.
The Knicks proceeded to take care of the Sixers again, then escaped Cleveland and Kyrie Irving's go ahead jumper with 2.4 on the clock when Carmelo Anthony hit a turnaround fadeaway at the buzzer. Next up were the Lakers, who jumped out to a 20 point lead on the Knicks, until the Knicks clawed back and once again won on a last second 30 foot three pointer from Anthony.
The team was now 30-41, three games out of the 8th playoff spot.
Easy victories followed over the Kings and Suns, setting up a rematch with Golden State, who had humiliated them a few weeks before. Fueled by the harassing defense from Toure Murry, who bothered Steph Curry into a season high in turnovers, and buoyed by a final minute Chandler block of a David Lee turnaround, the Knicks moved closer to their goal.
Another win over the Jazz, followed by a 30 point drubbing of the Nets set up a showdown with Miami in a preview of a possible first round matchup. In a thrilling triple overtime win, Amar'e Stoudemire sealed the game by blocking Wade's runner in the final seconds, then tipping the ball to Anthony who passed ahead to a streaking Cole Aldrich for the emphatic dunk.
The Knicks were tied for the eighth spot. They would claim it for good by beating Toronto a few days later. Wins over Chicago, the Nets, and Toronto again put a cap on an exhilarating regular season finish.
* * *
First up in the playoffs - the top seeded Indiana Pacers. The Pacers came out in game 1 looking to assert their dominance after their previous regular season drubbing, sprinting out to a 14 point lead after one. They expanded that lead to 23 midway through the second quarter before a lineup of Prigioni, Murry, Shumpert, Amar'e and Chandler fought back to to bring the deficit to 11 at the half.
The second half was a seesaw battle. The Pacers appears to have it won, up by 8 with less than a minute left. A Carmelo 3 cut the deficit to 5. On the other end, Melo blocked Hibbert's dunk attempt. igniting a break that ended with a Shumpert 3 pointer.
On the other end, Paul George missed a three pointer, and Hibbert was fouled on the rebound, fouling Chandler out. Hibbert missed both, and the Knicks sprinted up the court. A missed Carmelo runner bounced around and ended up in the hands of Stoudemire, who drained a three at the buzzer.
The Knicks would not trail again in the series and stunned the world with a four game sweep.
Next up were the Bulls, who ended the Knicks historic winning streak in game one, stifling them with defense. Game 2 also went the Bulls way. It appeared as if the Knicks cinderella story might be over. The Knicks squeaked out game 3 on the back of Melo's 44 points, but lost again in game 4 to fall behind, 3-1.
After a rousing and borderline violent speech from Coach Todd, the Knicks traveled to Chicago with their backs to the wall and easily handled the Bulls in game 5, then went on to take game 6 at the Garden. In game 7, the Knicks pulled away in the 4th quarter behind a barrage of ball movement, made threes, and swarming defense to move on to a conference finals matchup with the Miami Heat.
Taking advantage of injuries to Wade, Bosh, and finally LeBron, the Knicks pushed past the Heat in 6 games. Somehow, some way, this awful season had turned into a finals trip.
Facing the surprising Houston Rockets, the Knicks lost game 1 in Houston, then stole game 2 as the Knicks suffocated Harden and Chandler dominated Howard. The Knicks then won games 3 and 4 at home, going up 3-1. In game 5, a last second 3 pointer from Jeremy Lin snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and sent the game back to NY. Once again, Lin burned the Knicks, tying the game with an acrobatic layup at the buzzer. The game would go to quadruple overtime. Chandler, Stoudemire, and Anthony would all foul out. Finally, with the Knicks up by one and 5 seconds left, James Harden would beat his man and streak toward the basket, only to have his shot blocked cleanly by Cole Aldrich.
Of course, a foul was called. An exhausted Harden missed both, Pablo Prigioni dribbled out the clock, and the confetti rained.
Hey, IT COULD TOTALLY HAPPEN