The lack of live basketball has resulted in a flare up of the silly debate over whether Patrick Ewing was really that great, so let’s travel back 26 years to when he averaged 25 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals en route to a first round victory over the New Jersey Nets.
Ewing was such a steady force throughout his time in New York that it’s easy to misremember how dominant he was. He might not have been the flashiest superstar, but the Knicks made the playoffs 13 straight times with Ewing as the centerpiece. Although he was never able to reach the top of the mountain because fellow superstars like Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon stood in his way, that doesn’t mean he isn’t an all-time great. Charles Oakley’s insistence on downplaying Ewing’s career is really regrettable.
Fortunately, Jeff Van Gundy recently came to Ewing’s defense, saying the following during a recent interview with SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio:
“I think we have amnesia, sometimes, as Knick people, just to how good Ewing was and how well he played. If you’re going to be compared to Jordan, then everybody’s going to come up short. But if you’re compared to a level of greatness?
Van Gundy spoke about Ewing in the way that Ewing should be talked about. Here’s a longer clip:
ICYMI: Jeff Van Gundy reminds everyone how great @CoachEwing33 @nyknicks really was. #LastDance pic.twitter.com/559YAQgx4m— Mad Dog Sports Radio (@MadDogRadio) May 4, 2020
There are countless games, series and plays that one could point to in order to illustrate Ewing’s incredible body of work. But let’s focus on the first round of the playoffs in 1994, because it shows how, even when he wasn’t performing with perfect efficiency, Ewing was so good that a lesser team like the Nets simply had no chance.
Some Brief Background
We’ll get to the series shortly, but first let’s set the stage. The 1993-94 season was the NBA’s first without MJ — he was off playing baseball instead of defending the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat — meaning the door was finally ajar for someone else to capture the championship.
The Knicks were among the teams that saw the opening, and they’d actually reach the finals. There, they faced the Houston Rockets. The series went seven games.
During the regular season, Ewing posted 24.5 points per game on almost 50% from the field, plus 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.7 blocks and 1.1 steals. For good measure, he shot 76.5% from the free throw line, slightly above his career average of 74%.
The Knicks finished the season 57-25, good for first place in the Atlantic Division. Ewing finished fifth in MVP voting, behind winner and eventual champion Olajuwon, David Robinson, Scottie Pippen and Shaquille O’Neal. Decent company.
The Series Starts
The Knicks were favored going into the best-of-five series against the Nets, having secured home court advantage and finishing the season 12 games better than New Jersey. However, the Nets were given a fighting chance by onlookers because they were led by two very good players in Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman, had beaten the Knicks in four of five regular season matchups, and finished the year on a 32-17 tear.
In game one, Ewing put up 25 points, 13 boards, 5 assists, 2 blocks and a steal, but he shot just 7-23 from the floor (30.4%) and had 6 turnovers. It didn’t come easy, but by crunch time Ewing had kicked it into gear. He received help from Derek Harper, who had 14 points and 3 assists while holding Anderson to 13 points on 3-11 shooting and 6 assists, as well as Charles Smith, who had 17 points and 5 rebounds off the bench.
The Knicks took game one by a final score of 91-80.
A couple of days later, in game two, the Knicks were forced to rally around their center after Ewing was ejected with 5 minutes and 21 seconds left in the first half. Ewing, who very much disagreed with the second technical foul he received, had compiled 11 points (5-11 shooting), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 1 block before being booted after just 16 minutes of playing time.
The Knicks made up for the lack of Ewing with an explosive performance that included 25 points and 24 rebounds from Oakley. After the 90-81 win, Anthony Bonner, one of the starting forwards for the Knicks in the game, explained to the New York Times why many of the Knicks had the word ‘Dogpound’ written on their sneakers.
“What’s the Dogpound?” said Anthony Bonner, the Knicks forward. “The Dogpound is a group of players who bring their lunch pails every night and come to work. It’s not for publicity, it’s just something we do as a family on the team, for team unity. We even let the coaches in. So when Patrick got thrown out, we reached down, tied our sneakers a little tighter, and went to work.”
The Nets Stave Off A Sweep
The Nets didn’t go down without a fight, taking game three in overtime, 93-92. New Jersey just barely eked out the victory thanks to two free throws with 1.5 seconds left in OT from Chris Morris, which were followed by a missed 25-foot jumper from John Starks.
Ewing nearly wrapped up the series himself when he drained a 14-foot turnaround jump shot from the baseline to put the Knicks up 92-91 with 20 seconds remaining (the next two videos are timestamped for where they need to be, so just hit play and you’re good to go).
Meanwhile, before overtime, Ewing made sure the Nets wouldn’t win in regulation thanks to an emphatic rejection of Anderson on a drive on the final possession before OT.
The Nets stayed alive, however, despite Ewing’s stat line of 27 points (10-24 from the field), 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks and 3 steals.
Ewing Decides To End The Series
Come game four, the Big Fella was at the point where he’d had enough of the Nets. Ewing saved his best for last, with a series finale that included 36 points (12-24 shooting, 12-16 from on free throws), 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks and 2 steals. The Knicks won by 10 and moved onto the next round, where they would face off against, and beat, the Pippen-led Bulls.
Watching the highlights of Ewing’s monster game is surreal. He was such a dominant force down low that he didn’t need extravagant moves. He’d basically come down the floor and get into position in the post, put his hand up to call for the ball, and then go to work once the entry pass had been made.
He sank baseline jumpers, bounded into the lane for one-handed runners and twisted his body down low to find an angle at which he could throw in a layup. Near the end of the game, he finally soars into the sky for a slam. It’s beautiful.
Ewing’s greatness is not overstated. He’s one of the best centers in basketball history on both sides of the ball. The Knicks have been searching for a new centerpiece like him ever since he departed in a controversial trade back in 2000, 15 years after the ping pong balls fell New York’s way and allowed the franchise to select a cornerstone with the first pick in the 1985 draft.
Let’s remember him the way he should be remembered. He’s an all-time great.