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This week in Knicks history: Bernard King explodes for 44 in must-win playoff game vs. Celtics

King played like royalty that evening.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks
The King.

Bernard King was a monster scorer who racked up points when and how he wanted, as shown 36 years ago this week, when he scored 44 points and single-handedly carried the Knicks past the Boston Celtics in a must-win Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

King’s scoring bonanza came in a crucial postseason game during his apex. The following season, he was averaging 32.9 points per game before a torn ACL ended his campaign abruptly after 55 games. For those keeping score, only 11 players have ever averaged 32.9 or more for a season:

Wilt Chamberlain (he did it seven times), Elgin Baylor (three times), Michael Jordan (thrice), James Harden (twice, including this year’s currently shortened season), Rick Barry, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo, Tiny Archibald, George Gervin and Allen Iverson (all once).

When you whittle that down to just the players who posted 32.9 or more points per game while shooting at least 53% from the field, the list merely consists of Wilt, MJ, Kareem and King.

While we could ruminate for days on what it might have looked like if King never tore that ACL and instead teamed with Patrick Ewing for years to come, we should get back to the matter at hand, which is that 36 years ago this week — on May 11, 1984 — King lifted the Knicks on his shoulders against Larry Bird and the Celtics to win a crucial playoff game in Madison Square Garden.

In the previous game, the Celtics had trounced the Knicks by 22, despite King’s 30-point effort. Heading into Game 6 at MSG, the Knicks were down 3-2 in the series, just one loss away from being booted from the playoffs.

King lived up to his moniker that night, taking the reins from the start and scoring 14 of the Knicks first 21 points, and shooting 11-13 from the field in the first half. He totaled 44 for the game on 16-25 shooting (64%). His final field goal put the Knicks up 13 with three and a half minutes to play. The Celtics stormed back, but the Knicks held on, barely, coming away with the 106-104 victory.

After King, the next highest scoring Knicks were Bill Cartwright and Ray Williams, with 14 points each. No other Knicks scored in double figures. Including that night, King scored 40 or more points in six of the Knicks 12 total playoff games that year. Overall in the postseason, he averaged 35 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.2 steals of 57% shooting.

The Celtics were led in their Game 6 losing effort by Bird, who had 35 points and 11 boards. He was helped by the likes of Gerald Henderson (20 points), Kevin McHale (16) and Cedric Maxwell (14). The Celtics would win Game 7 at home against the Knicks and go on to win the NBA championship.

The Knicks head coach that night was Hubie Brown, who is now 86-years-old and still calling NBA games. Darrell Walker, 23-years-old at the time, scored 2 points for the Knicks that night. Walker, now 59, was an assistant coach with the Knicks between 2012 and 2014, and currently serves as head men’s coach at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Ernie Grunfeld also contributed 2 points for the Knicks that night. He would go on to be named the president and general manager of the Knicks in 1996, and was at the helm in New York for two NBA Finals appearances, five 50-plus win seasons, and three Atlantic Division Championships. Now 65, Grunfeld enjoyed a lengthy period as General Manager of the Washington Wizards starting in 2003. He was fired in April of last year, however.

King’s NBA dominance was cut short in 1985, when he tore his ACL. He missed the entire 1985-86 season and was never quite the same. Even though his prime was curtailed by injury, he still delivered an abundance of all-time great Knicks performances — like that time in 1984 when he scored 50 points on consecutive nights in victories over the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks. Those were certainly impressive regular season games, but the pressure goes up many notches in the playoffs, and 36 years ago this week King showed he could handle the heat by carrying the Knicks in a do-or-die postseason matchup against the eventual NBA champions.

Now, with no live basketball to watch in the immediate future, please enjoy these highlights of both King and Bird from the night the former bested the latter in Game 6 against the Celtics.