November 3rd 1995: Knicks win Don Nelson’s first game 106-100 in Detroit against the Pistons
Nelson employed a quirky and an extremely short rotation in the season opener. Hubert Davis, starting for the suspended Charles Oakley, surprisingly played the entire game, while leading the team with 21 points and made 5 three pointers. Both Derek Harper and newly-minted starter Anthony Mason played 42 and 44 minutes, respectively. Harper scored 20 points on 9-15 from the field and 2-5 from three. In the new role of point forward, Mason scored 18 points on 7-13 from the field and grabbed 13 rebounds and 5 assists.
In a foreshadowing of things to come, Patrick Ewing’s role was slightly reduced in favor of Mason. Ewing ended up with 19 points in 34 minutes, but only grabbed 4 rebounds and largely felt out of place away from the post.
Don Nelson came into the season with a mindset that the culture and system built in the Riley era was not sustainable. He felt a need to modernize the system and get younger in order to compete with the rising superstars of the NBA (e.g. Shaq, Chris Webber, Alonzo Mourning, etc.). He believed that building an offense around a 33-year-old Ewing wasn’t enough and that the offense was better suited utilizing Anthony Mason as a point forward.
Shifting the offense away from Ewing and later benching John Starks marked the nail in the coffin for Nelson. Despite starting the season 18-6, the Knicks went through a prolonged slump and the combination of both factors led to his firing in March 1996, despite a record of 34-25. The 59 games marked the shortest tenure ever for a Knick head coach.