They say defense wins championships, and by that logic the New York Knicks were crowned as NBA champions 18 years ago this week when the team set a then-record by holding their opponents under 100 points for 33 consecutive games.
The impressive defensive achievement — which, just to be clear, did not count as an actual NBA championship victory — consisted of the Knicks keeping their opponents to less than 100 points for the 33 games the team played between November 11th, 2000 and January 21st, 2001. At the time, the feat represented the NBA record, although the Knicks would be usurped only a couple of years later by the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons, whose defensive streak lasted for 38 games. Today, the Knicks remain second all-time on this odd NBA record list, according to basketball-reference.com.
The accomplishment came during a strange time in Knicks history. The team, still coached by Jeff Van Gundy, was at the tail end of its run as a perennial playoff maker, and during the offseason the Knicks had traded franchise cornerstone Patrick Ewing to the Seattle Supersonics in a four-team deal that brought back Glen Rice, Travis Knight, Luc Longley, and other spare parts, including some draft picks that didn’t amount to much of anything.
Thus, the Knicks were led by Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Rice, the latter of which was already on the downturn of his career and would only average 12 points per game during his lone year in New York.
Where did all the defense come from?
Digging Into The Streak
Heading into a November 11, 2000 matchup against the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, the Knicks were 4-2 and coming off a 103-101 overtime victory against the Boston Celtics the previous night. The team didn’t show any signs of fatigue, however, smashing the Hornets, 81-67, and holding the team to just 7 points in the third quarter alone. The Knicks held the Hornets to just under 33 percent shooting as a team. Allan Houston led the way with 21 points, and as a team the Knicks had 6 steals and 4 blocks. The streak had begun.
During the 33-game defensive streak, the Knicks held opponents to less than 80 points 12 times, and at one point won seven consecutive games, including a 20-point drubbing of the Philadelphia 76ers, which were led by that season’s MVP Allen Iverson. On January 11, 2001, the Knicks broke the previous record for holding opponents under 100 points, which was 28 and had been set 46 years earlier during the 1954-55 season by the Fort Wayne Pistons, in a 76-75 loss to the Houston Rockets.
The Associated Press led the postgame recap with the following sentence: “The New York Knicks went into the NBA record books Thursday night for their defense. Because of their offense, they lost the game.”
Overall, the Knicks went 21-12 during the defensive streak, proving that, while defense may not automatically guarantee a championship, it certainly helps win games.
The Streak Sadly Ends
The Knicks finally let an opponent hit the century mark about a week and a half after setting the record, in a 105-91 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on January 23, 2001.
’’There is a certain feeling that we’re not playing with the intensity and defensive passion that we had been playing with lately,’’ Houston said after the game, according to the New York Times recap. ‘’And obviously, we didn’t turn it back on tonight.’’
The Knicks would go on to finish the season 48-34, good for fourth in the Eastern Conference. They were ousted in the first round by Vince Carter and the Toronto Raptors, though, and it wasn’t long until the Knicks as a franchise completely collapsed into a period of intense darkness. By mid-December of the following year, Van Gundy had resigned, and the team would only make the playoffs in one of the next nine seasons.
The resulting era was filled with disappointment, but we’re not here to bemoan the fact that its stench has lingered so long that today’s Knicks have still yet to completely regain a reputation for being competent. Instead, let’s go back to the Knicks outstanding streak of holding opponents under 100 points for 33 straight games. That team was able to do so even with Marcus Camby as its only real elite defender — for what it’s worth, Camby was out with an injury when the streak finally came to an end against the Rockets — and it was due to Van Gundy’s insistence on defense as a top priority that the Knicks were able to turn the year into one for the history books. For the season, the 2000-01 Knicks allowed 86.1 points per game, good for best in the NBA.
Perhaps one day, David Fizdale — who has been quoted as saying that he wants his Knicks to be known as a defensive-minded team — will be able to coach his ‘Bockers to a similarly impressive defensive feat, although in the current NBA there’s no chance they could hold teams to under 100 for any significant amount of games. Still, the Knicks do have pieces that, if put together correctly, could form a freakishly formidable defense. Just look at Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Mitchell Robinson.