Day one of the Most Knicks Moment Ever* Tournament featured instants of great joy and some of the more memorable dunks we’ve enjoyed ‘round these parts. Voting is still open in that bracket, but here on day two things get a little blue. And by “blue” I mean both depressing and NC-17.
Knick fans know misery better than most. We’re sommeliers on the subject; we can suggest isolated agonies (Julius Randle spinning into a triple-team) or geologic eras of woe (the 21st century). But God never closes a door without opening a weirdo, and so we’ve also been blessed with our fair share of J.R. Smith, a tournament unto himself. Today’s bracket features eight moments of excruciating pain and eight times J.R. took us to strange new places. Which are the Knicksiest? Vote, yo!
- REGGIE MILLER 1994 VS. REGGIE MILLER 1995
The pessimist views this match-up as “Crap. Either way, Reggie wins.” The optimist? “Cool. Either way, Reggie loses.” I have faith in your fortitude, reader. Most of the past five seasons have seen the Knicks tank with little to show for it. No creature under Heaven better understands the razor’s edge of these kinds of problems than a fanbase so abused for so long we’ve turned to infighting over wins being bad and losses being good.
To really appreciate the magnitude of misery Miller’s fourth quarter in Game 4 of the ‘94 ECF caused, you need to know where things stood entering the frame. The Knicks had homecourt advantage and had won Games 1 and 2 at MSG by double-digits. Counting the 1993 and 1994 regular seasons and playoffs, Indiana lost 12 of 14 games versus New York heading into Games 3 and 4 at Market Square Arena. They had no answer for Patrick Ewing, and entering the fourth quarter the Knicks led 70-58.
Everything was going according to plan: the Knicks would go up 3-2 and either close out the plucky Pacers two days later or for sure at home in Game 7. So while 19,762 Alfred E. Neumans contented themselves to watch the natural order unfold, one Knick fan decided to start writing checks neither he nor anyone on the team could cash.
25 points later, Miller had led the Pacers to a comeback victory and Knick nation looked like Mike Tyson after Buster Douglas dropped him.
Lotta y’all stood up for Spike Lee in his weird fight with James Dolan recently. Look: I loved Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X, Clockers and Bamboozled. As a filmmaker, to me, Lee is an American treasure. As a Knick fan, he’s been dead to me for 25 years. If you followed the team back then, you remember the enormous stress and strain of Game 6, especially late in the fourth. Lee was courtside for that one, too. If not for Derek Harper’s heroics, I don’t think Spike would have been allowed back in NYC. Ever.
But the Knicks came back to win the series, and a year later they met Indiana in the second round with normal reality seemingly in-place. New York had homecourt advantage again and led Game 1 105-99 with just under 19 seconds left. What could go wrong?
Miller shook free of John Starks for an instant and hit from deep over him. Still, the Knicks were up three with the ball. So long as Miller didn’t, say, get away with mugging Greg Anthony, stealing the inbounds and hitting another trey, New York would remain in front. And even if that happened, you’d still need a nearly impossible sequence to unfold for the Knicks to lose this one — like, Indiana inexplicably fouling Starks, only for him to inexplicably miss both free throws, only for Ewing to get the offensive rebound and miss an eight-foot jumper rather than holding for the last shot, only for the Knicks to then inexplicably foul Miller, who made 90% of his free throws that season and would hit both to give the Pacers the win in a series they’d take in seven.
Which was more devastating?
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Reggie Miller’s 25-point 4Q in 1994
Reggie Miller’s 8 points in 8.9 seconds in 1995
- MICHAEL JORDAN VS. CHARLES SMITH
Charles Smith played nine years in the NBA. Before being traded to the Knicks, he was, to that point, one of the few bright spots in the history of the Los Angeles Clippers. In four seasons out west, he averaged 20+ points twice and blocked 2+ shots a game twice. Even put up a 50-piece once.
The day his trade to the Knicks was announced, I remember watching a highlights package on the sports segment of Headline News (ask your parents, kids). It showed Smith blocking Michael Jordan. I’m sure I nodded, faux-knowingly. “If he was stuffing Jordan with that sad-sack team,” my 13-year-old brain reasoned, “he’ll fit right in with the Knicks.”
I was in ninth grade for Game 5 of the 1993 ECF. Because of my bedtime and TV’s incessant greed, the game started too late for me to finish. So I taped it on the VCR and woke up at like 5 a.m. the next day to watch what I’d missed. Oh, what I missed. I still honestly have to fight myself to watch I still get sick just thinking about it. If you have a heart condition, skip the video. Your family needs you.
With 1:16 left and the series tied at 2, the Knicks trailed 95-93. Pippen committed a dumb loose-ball foul with Chicago over the limit, sending Smith to the line. FORESHADOWING: he badly missed the first free throw and barely got the second to fall. New York forced a 24-second violation on a possession where Jordan for some reason never touched the ball. The Knicks had one last chance to win, and...well, you know.
Before the Smith game, the Knicks had won five of their prior 11 playoff games against the Jordan-led Bulls. They’d lose six of their last seven in 1993 and 1996.
As far as Jordan-inflicted misery, I don’t even know which moment to choose.
It was all one unending nightmare.
Which memory hurts more?
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Michael Jordan in general
- PATRICK EWING’S FINGER-ROLL VS. CARMELO ANTHONY & ROY HIBBERT
The $&%#ing Pacers again.
The poison cherry on the poop sundae that was the 1995 series with Indiana was the final seconds of Game 7. Of course, for those to really sting, the set-up had to be worthy of the climax, and it was. After blowing a 10-point lead late in Game 3 and falling behind in the series 3-1, the Knicks fought back to force a seventh game, then rallied from a 15-point deficit in the third to give themselves a chance. Speculation was rampant that a loss could signal Pat Riley’s departure; despite having a year left on his deal, he and the team had failed to work out an extension for over a year. There was everything at stake. A year earlier, Ewing scored the decisive points in Game 7 to win the series. He tried to again.
Asked if this game was the most disappointing loss of his career, Ewing said, “I think so. I thought I made a great move to get to the hole. I couldn’t have dunked it — I took off from too far. I thought it was in. I’m just very disappointed right now.” You’re not alone, Big Fella.
18 years later, the Knicks and Pacers met in another second-round series. Again they blew homecourt advantage and fell behind 3-1. Again they avoided elimination in Game 5 and found themselves in a tightly-fought Game 6 in Indiana, this time Conseco Fieldhouse, because your $150,000 home should last 100 years but multi-multi-multi-million-dollar stadiums that line the pockets of the private sector are no good after not even half that time.
The 2013 Knicks were a historical anomaly in that they were really, really good. The two finalists that year, Miami and San Antonio, lost five of their six games against New York. The Knicks played an unusual style — first in three-pointers taken and made, last in pace — led by an MVP candidate in Carmelo Anthony. After forcing a Game 6, the Knicks trailed by eight at the half, but clawed back into contention in the second half. A little more than midway through the fourth, they led 92-90 and had possession. Carmelo took a bounce pass from Pablo Prigioni, spun past Paul George baseline and looked to create separation.
That wasn’t the end of the 2013 Knicks, but it was the beginning of the end. Hibbert’s block sparked a 16-7 run to close the game and the series in Indiana’s favor. Soon after Jason Kidd retired, the $100M Amar’e Stoudemire continued his transformation into Brokedown Palace, Andrea Bargnani replaced Steve Novak and the Knicks haven’t made the playoffs or won more than 37 games since.
Which misery was more miserable?
This poll is closed
Patrick Ewing’s missed finger-roll
Roy Hibbert blocking Carmelo Anthony
- THE LANGSTON GALLOWAY/TIM HARDAWAY JR. GAME vs. THE 2007 BOSTON MASSACRE
The 2013 Knicks pretty quickly became the 2015 Knicks. Sometimes a picture says it all:
As difficult as that year was to endure (my first full season at P&T. Thanks, Serth!), there was one light at the end of the 82-game tunnel: as the league’s cellar dweller, the Knicks had the best odds to win the lottery. Phil Jackson was on the record about the team seeking a big man who could impact the defensive end: “‘We want a player that has multiple skills...We have zero big men [under contract next year].’ Asked if he’d prefer a big man who can pass and score or one who can defend, he didn’t even wait a millisecond: ‘Defender.’”
Karl-Anthony Towns has not exactly enhanced his reputation as a defender since going #1 in the 2015 draft. Still, bigs who can average 26+ points, 12+ rebounds, 4.5 assists and almost two blocks while shooting 41% from deep on eight attempts a game are a fine consolation prize. Prior to last season, Towns missed only five games his entire career. After missing 29 a year ago he’s maybe not A.C. Green, but even with those absences he’s missed as many games in his career as Kristaps Porziņģis did in 2017-18 alone.
In their penultimate game of the season, the Knicks faced Atlanta. This was a Hawks team that earlier that year won 19 in a row and 24 of 25 en route to 60 victories and a #1 seed. They had four All-Stars. They’d beaten the Knicks in their previous two meetings. The Knicks were in a furious race to the bottom with a Minnesota team that would lose its last 12 games. New York had lost nine straight before splitting their two games before Atlanta. They looked all good for at least a share of the most ping pong balls.
But Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 23 while Langston Freaking Galloway poured in 26 on 10-of-12 from the field, including 6-of-6 from downtown. to lead the Knicks to a 112-108 upset. The Wolves won the lottery and took Towns. The Knicks fell to fourth and begat Porziņģis, who begat Dennis Smith Jr., who begat one of the great lost seasons we’ve seen at MSG in recent memory.
The 2007 Knicks were sad in an entirely different way. That outfit went 23-59. 23 wins versus 17 ain’t hell, but it’s def purgatorial. Still, there were still delusions of hope if you squinted early on: New York won two of their first three games, then lost eight straight before winning two in a row. At 4-9 they faced the hated Celtics in a nationally broadcast game. A win would have injected optimism and good feelings into their veins. All they got was an air bubble.
How bad was that loss? Boston led by as many as 52. The Knicks didn’t score 20 points in a single quarter. If the Celtics had gone scoreless in the second half, the Knicks would still only have won by five. The game was in Boston and even Celtic fans were chanting “Fire Isiah!”
Which loss hurts you more?
This poll is closed
The THJ/Galloway ATL upset
The 2007 Boston Massacre
- GAME-WINNER IN CHARLOTTE VS. GAME-WINNER IN PHOENIX
On December 5, 2012, the Knicks put a four-game winning streak on the line in Charlotte. They trailed entering the fourth quarter of your classic winter-in-Charlotte games, i.e. a tougher slog than you’d care for. Kemba Walker was cooking, but the Knicks had the ball and a shot at the last shot.
"IT'S GOOD! IT'S GOOD!"— Alex Wolfe (@thealexwolfe) March 30, 2020
Great Breen call pic.twitter.com/r7mu0sc8KY
Fun fact: this loss was the Hornets’ fifth straight, a streak that would climb to 18 in a row.
Three weeks later, the Knicks found themselves in another nailbiter, this time in Phoenix. Smith made headlines in that one just before halftime for a minimalist flagrant foul on Goran Dragić.
The Suns came out hot and bothered in the third and turned a double-digit deficit into a tie game entering the fourth. On a night without Carmelo Anthony or Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks relied on Jason Kidd (this was one of the months that year he could actually shoot) and Smith. Those two would team-up for another buzzer-beater.
Which buzzer-beater’s better?
This poll is closed
J.R. in Charlotte
J.R. in Phoenix
- JASON TERRY VS. RIHANNA
Nobody wins them all.
During the 2013 playoffs, J.R. had a few missteps. In the fourth quarter of Game 3, the Knicks led the Rajon Rondo-less Celtics by 19 and were comfortably en route to a 3-0 series lead. Boston was dead in the water. With a sweep, the Knicks would enjoy enough time off to get Amar’e Stoudemire some legit practice time before the next round. STAT would be a valuable scoring weapon off the bench for a team whose other bigs, Tyson Chandler and Kenyon Martin, weren’t threats to score alone in a gym. And then, J.R. gave the Celtics a reason to fight.
And just like that, a coronation became an insurgency. Smith earned a one-game suspension, the Celts won Game 4 and Game 5, and a 20-0 run late in Game 6 nearly pushed this series to the brink. Smith was never the same that postseason.
Which leads us to Rihanna. During those playoffs, she and JR were apparently an item for a bit.
The two games before this photo, Games 1 and 2 of the Indiana series, Smith combined to shoot just 7 of 30. The two games after, he went 11 of 34. The Knicks were struggling to figure out Smith’s problem. Rihanna wasn’t.
Well. If you thought getting Hester Prynne’d would light a fire under J.R., joke’s on you: he was already lit! The next two games he’d hit 8 of 26. Smith shot 29% in the Pacer series. Icarus never flew so high again in New York, on or off the court.
Which is more J.R. being J.R.?
This poll is closed
Blasting Jason Terry’s face
Getting put on blast by Rihanna
- FIRST GAME AS A KNICK VS. THREE-POINT BARRAGE @ MIAMI
During the 2010-11 lockout, Smith signed a then-record $3M deal with the Zhejiang Golden Bulls in China. Smith’s contract did not include an opt-out clause, so he couldn’t return to the NBA until Zhejiang’s season ended. Once it did, a number of teams pursued J.R.: the Lakers, the Clippers, the Magic, the Bulls, the Pacers and the Knicks. The Jersey native signed with New York but didn’t report till Saturday night, so he wasn’t expected to play in a nationally televised game Sunday vs. Dallas. Smith has never been about your expectations.
Smith fit like a glove right away, pouring in 15 points in 30 minutes. Fun fact, especially for those of you who buy the conspiracy theory that the media always has it in for the Knicks — ESPN described the Knicks adding Smith thusly: “A short time ago, the New York Knicks had a lot of question marks. Now it appears they’re building a juggernaut.”
2013-14 was a disappointment, but late in the campaign New York went on a furious run at the eighth seed. With 10 days left in the season, the Knicks traveled to Miami to face the defending champions. They’d lose the game, but Smith set a Knick record for 3s in a game (10) and a league record for attempts (22).
There’s something quintessentially J.R. about fitting in improbably well from the get-go and going down with an empty clip.
Which was more J.R.?
This poll is closed
Fitting in from the start
Bombing away in Miami
- SHOELACES TOUR VS. “YOU TRYNA GET THE PIPE?”
No words need apply.
This poll is closed
We’re halfway through the voting. Stay tuned next week for the other half of the bracket. You are missed and loved.