May 2nd 1989: Patrick Ewing & Mark Jackson win their first playoff series to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals
Patrick Ewing & Mark Jackson advanced to the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time in their NBA careers while the Knicks won their first playoff series since Bernard King led the crusade in the 1983-84 season. The Knicks defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in overtime 116-115 to complete the three game sweep. As Ewing struggled most of the evening, Gerald Wilkins came to the team’s rescue by knocking down the go-ahead 19 foot jumper with 6 seconds left in overtime.
Although the Knicks swept the 76ers, the 3 game matchup proved to be very close and was only decided by a couple clutch baskets. Mark Jackson hit a clutch 3 point basket in Game 1 while Trent Tucker hit the go-ahead shot in Game 2. The series marked a significant contrast to the previous season where the Boston Celtics easily defeated the Knicks in 4 games.
January 12, 1974: Red Holzman sets club record in head coaching victories
The New York Knicks defeated the Golden State Warriors 96-80. In the victory, Red Holzman set a club record with 327 regular season victories. He surpassed the record held by Joe Lapchick. Lapchick coached the Knicks for eight seasons between 1948-1956.
Red eventually reached 613 total wins over 14 seasons with the Knicks. The team recognized his coaching feat by retiring the number 613 in the rafters in 1990. In a testament to the rapid turnover of coaches, no coach outside of Holzman or Lapchick coached more than seven seasons with the Knicks. Jeff Van Gundy coached part of the 1995-96 and 2001-02 seasons, but only coached five full seasons with the team. Only Van Gundy & Pat Riley exceeded 200 wins as Knick coaches (248 and 223 respectively).
January 12, 1989: The New York Knicks rout the Charlotte Hornets 106-89
The Charlotte Hornets made their first visit to Madison Square Garden as an inaugural franchise. Unfortunately for them, the Knicks routed the Hornets 106-89. Mark Jackson led the Knicks with 18 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals. Both Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley netted double doubles.
The Knicks started the game very sloppy. The team committed 15 turnovers in the 1st half and held a tie game with the 9-24 Hornets roster. In a desperation move, coach Rick Pitino inserted Trent Tucker into the starting lineup for the 2nd half and the defensive pressure intensified. The Knicks went on a 15-0 run in the 3rd quarter and ballooned the lead to 22 points by the end of the 3rd quarter.
The 1988-89 season marked the Hornets’ inaugural season. The team was one of four franchises – the Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Orlando Magic were the other three – that the NBA included in their expansion plans. The Heat & Hornets began their inaugural season in 1988-89 while the Magic & Timberwolves began in 1989-90.
The Hornets struggled for their first few seasons, but stockpiled several young players including Muggsy Bogues, Kendall Gill, Larry Johnson, & Alonzo Mourning. The quartet helped lead the team to their first playoff berth in 1992-93. While upsetting the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, they faced strong headwinds against a veteran-laden Knicks roster. The Knicks easily routed the Hornets in 5 games.
November 23, 1988: Knicks utilize half-court trap and three pointers to shock the Detroit Pistons 133-111 in the Palace of Auburn Hills
The road to the championship for the Detroit Pistons, who went into the game 9-1, approached a bump in the road against Rick Pitino & the New York Knicks. The combination of aggressive half-court traps and 3-point shots stifled the Pistons, who came into the game limiting opponents to only 98.6 points per game, a mark 2nd in the league.
Patrick Ewing led the way with 37 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, & 4 blocks and made 12-15 from the free throw line. However, Johnny Newman & Trent Tucker played pivotal roles in the victory. Newman & Tucker scored a combined 44 points on 8-13 from three. The team overall shot 9-16 from three point distance.1The Pistons only made 3 three pointers
The game also showcased the combo point guard duo of Mark Jackson & Rod Strickland. Both point guards got playing time together with the injury of Gerald Wilkins. Jackson had a double double with 14 points and 14 assists. Strickland had 9 points and 5 assists in 15 minutes.
The Pitino system frustrated the Pistons the entire night. Pitino established the interior game with Ewing to draw fouls and open the floor for three point shots. The team hit 35 free throws compared to 11 for the Pistons. The aggressive trapping led to 22 Pistons turnovers and easy buckets (including threes) for the Knicks. Future Knick GM Isiah Thomas committed 7 turnovers and, after the game, admitted the half-court press was “murder.”
November 8th 1988: Knicks win 1st game of the regular season to officially begin the “Bomb Squad” era
After losing the first two games of the regular season on the road, the Knicks got back into control in the friendly confines of Madison Square Garden. Johnny Newman scored a then-career high 35 points in a 126-117 home victory against the Chicago Bulls in Madison Square Garden. Newman scored 35 efficiently, shooting 12-15 from the field, 2-3 from three, and 9-10 from the free throw line.
Patrick Ewing, hampered with foul troubled during the first two regular season games, bounced back with 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 5 blocks. Charles Oakley faced his former team for the 1st time and ended the game with a modest statline of 6 points and 6 rebounds.
The 1988-1989 season was famously known to fans as the “Bomb Squad” era.
20 years before Mike D’Antoni came into MSG to encourage his players to shoot more threes, Rick Pitino instructed his roster to perform the same task. Pitino believed it was necessary to surround Ewing with enough three point shooters to provide the big man with space to feast in the paint.
The Knicks set a record with 386 three pointers made and 1,147 attempted. The 1,147 was over 400 attempts higher than the record set in the previous season. The Knicks won 52 games in the regular season and Ewing led the team scoring 23 points a game while hitting a career high 57% from the field.
The “Bomb Squad” consisted of Mark Jackson, Rod Strickland, Trent Tucker, Johnny Newman, & Gerald Wilkins. Tucker shot 2-3 from three in the game and led the team with three pointers made during the season (118 made at 40%). Johnny Newman ended up tripling his three-point attempts from the season before and ended the year with 97 three-pointers made on 287 attempts (34%). Mark Jackson, in his sophomore season, doubled his three point attempts and ended the season shooting 81-240 from three in 72 games. Strickland funnily never got comfortable shooting threes and never shot many threes after leaving the Knicks.
The temptation of the NCAA and the recruiting power lured Pitino to the Kentucky Wildcats. The “Bomb Squad” era slowly flamed out as the team reverted back to attempting a more normal, or normal at the time, 710 three-pointers, which still ranked 5th in the league. Pitino brought a very innovative style of basketball to the Knicks and it only makes us wonder what would have happened if he remained with the team during Ewing’s prime.
November 4th 1988: Charles Oakley makes his Knicks debut against the Boston Celtics
Charles Oakley made his Knicks debut and grabbed a double-double (11 points & 11 rebounds) in an 122-115 overtime loss against the Boston Celtics. Oakley was one of six players who scored in double figures that night. Patrick Ewing led the Knicks with 28 points, while Mark Jackson and Johnny Newman both scored 19 points each.
The Chicago Bulls traded Oakley to the Knicks on the day of the 1988 NBA Draft for Bill Cartwright. Of the 9 trades between the Bulls & Knicks, this trade ended up being a win-win for both team. Oakley became expendable as a result of the rapid development of Horace Grant. The Knicks relegated Cartwright to be Ewing’s backup. New York needed a power forward who could rebound while the Bulls needed a center who could score. This trade met the demands of both teams.
Oakley anchored the power forward position for the next decade and used his toughness on both ends of the floor to help the team achieve more than a decade of playoff berths and an NBA finals appearance.
Cartwright immediately became the Bulls starting center. While he was not scoring a high number of points, he eventually was an integral part of the Bulls’ first championship trifecta.
One hidden gem in the Oakley trade was the swap of 1st round picks. The Bulls used the Knicks’ pick to draft Will Perdue. Perdue would be a decent backup center who was part of 4 championship teams in his NBA career.
The Knicks ended up drafting Rod Strickland. Although he had a solid rookie season in New York, he became frustrated as Mark Jackson’s backup and demanded a trade in the following year (reminds me of a former Knick last year). He was later shipped to the Spurs in for Maurice Cheeks.
P.S. there’s 3 degrees of separation between NYC basketball legends Rod Strickland & Stephon Marbury. Can anyone guess the link?