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In Search of (Knicks) History, Pt. 2: King and Ewing vs. the Celtics

And now for the playoff series some of us might actually remember.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Knicks-Celtics rivalry has had many twists and turns over the year. Since the playoffs is usually the time we ramp up the inappropriate military analogies, I guess I'd compare this rivalry to the Hundred Years War...except it's only been going on for 67 years, and it in no way resembles an actual war.

Last time on In Search of Knicks History, we looked at the 50's, 60's and 70's - a time of short shorts and an insufferable Celtics player and coach named Tommy Heinsohn. Today we will take a look at the period from the early 80's until today - a time of ever-lengthening shorts and an insufferable Celtics broadcaster named Tommy Heinsohn.

1984 Eastern Conference Finals Semifinals (Celtics win, 4-3)

As you will see, the Boston Garden was a house of horrors for the Knicks during the Bird era. This '84 team actually managed to win in Boston, on Feb. 29, 1984. And that would be it for the rest of the decade. The Celtics would rack up a 27-game winning streak against the Knicks at the (other) Garden, including playoffs.

The '84 Celtics were probably second among Larry Bird's three title teams - they went 62-20, led the the NBA in expected W-L record and Margin of Victory. The Knicks only made this into a series by defending their homecourt - the real Garden - and by leaning heavily on Bernard King. The numbers are the stuff of legend at this point - 29.1 PPG, .545 FG%. Considering the kind of reverence old school sports writers hold for these Celtic teams, I'm not sure Bernard would be heading for the Hall of Fame this year if not for his performance in this series.

Check out these highlights from Game 4:

1988 Eastern Conference First Round (Celtics Win, 3-1)

G Date Opponent Tm Opp W L
1 Fri, Apr 29, 1988 Box Score @ Boston Celtics L 92 112 0 1
2 Sun, May 1, 1988 Box Score @ Boston Celtics L 102 128 0 2
3 Wed, May 4, 1988 Box Score Boston Celtics W 109 100 1 2
4 Fri, May 6, 1988 Box Score Boston Celtics L 94 102 1 3
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/19/2013.

Yeah...the Boston Garden. So far we've seen six games in Boston, all Celtic wins, by an average score of 118-99. Yikes.

The 1988 Celtics were at the tail-end of their absolute prime - this would be the first time in 5 years they didn't make the NBA Finals, losing to the Pistons in the Conference Finals. Sadly, the Knicks team no longer had Bernard to make this into a real series. They did have a third-year big by the name of Patrick Ewing, and a young coach named Rick Pitino, who, in between stints of leading college teams to the Final Four and impregnating random women in restaurants, occasionally plied his trade in the NBA.

Love him or hate him, Pitino is partially responsible for two basketball coaching innovations:

  1. Hiring assistants with the tacit understanding that they must be willing to wait patiently while the head coach bangs some random woman within earshot during dinner.
  2. Popularizing the three-point shot as an important offensive weapon.

This season's Knicks team has certainly taken advantage of the three (and I hope they continue to do so), but in the 88 playoffs it might have led to a bit of a statistical curiosity: Patrick Ewing was fourth on the team in field goals attempted during these four games. Seriously, check it out:

Rk Player Age G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% PTS
1 Gerald Wilkins 24 4 4 149 33 69 .478 2 4 .500 12 14 .857 80
2 Johnny Newman 24 4 2 113 31 68 .456 0 9 .000 14 16 .875 76
3 Mark Jackson 22 4 4 171 22 60 .367 5 12 .417 8 11 .727 57
4 Patrick Ewing 25 4 4 153 28 57 .491 0 1 .000 19 22 .864 75
5 Kenny Walker 23 4 2 80 8 24 .333 0 0 2 2 1.000 18
6 Trent Tucker 28 4 0 71 8 19 .421 6 13 .462 3 4 .750 25
7 Bill Cartwright 30 4 0 76 9 18 .500 0 0 11 15 .733 29
8 Sidney Green 27 4 4 93 8 17 .471 0 0 0 0 16
9 Sedric Toney 25 3 0 15 3 6 .500 3 6 .500 2 2 1.000 11
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 4/19/2013.

Weird. In my opinion, the MVP of the series was Sedric Toney - only because I've never before seen someone spell that name with an 'S'. I'd like to think that ol' Sed hated the Celtics so much that he refused to start his name with the letter 'C'. We need that kind of spirit on this Knicks team - are you listening, Chris Copeland...or, should I say, Kris Kopeland?

1990 Eastern Conference First Round (Knicks win, 3-2)

Remember that pesky 27-game losing streak in Boston? It ends a deciding Game 5. The Knicks did fine job of protecting home court in all of these series, with a 6-1 record, but they just couldn't break through on the road. And that proved to be the deciding factor for a team that never got home court advantage.

How did this team break through? I hope you're sitting down, cuz I'm about to blow your mind. The Knicks achieved the impossible - winning a deciding playoff game against Larry Bird in the Boston Garden - thanks to Patrick Ewing. Crazy, right? My generation has been beat over the head with the "Ewing wasn't clutch" storyline so often (never won a ring, '99 Knicks went to the Finals without him, Bill Simmons's insufferable "Ewing Theory") that it's downright shocking to learn that he could be pretty damn great in the playoffs.

How awesome was Ewing in this Boston series? This awesome:

31.6 PPG, .569 FG%, 11.4 RPG, 4.0 APG

And he may have saved his best overall performance for Game 5 - 31 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists (WHAT THE SHIT?!?!)

Here's an extended cut of Ewing's best plays from Game 5:

Next time somebody tells you Ewing couldn't come through in the playoffs, please show this clip.

2011 Eastern Conference First Round

...didn't happen

2013 Eastern Conference First Round

At this point you might be thinking to yourself, "It seems like the Celtics always had home court advantage in the past." That's not quite true, but it's been awhile - the last time the Knicks had home court in a game playoff series against Boston was 1969, a span of 44 years and seven NY-BOS playoff series. The last Knicks-Celtics series to open in New York came in the very first season of the current Madison Square, yeah, it's been a while. My advice to Knicks fans is to enjoy watching the boys in blue and orange host the hated Celtics in a Game 1, live from the Mecca of Basketball. This is pretty much the Haley's Comet of Knicks' fandom, so don't miss it.