On This Date: Knicks sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers

May 1st 1996: The New York Knicks sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1st round of the 1996 NBA Playoffs

Just like old time’s sake, the duo of Patrick Ewing & John Starks help lead the way for the Knicks to handily sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers 81-76 in the first round of the 1996 NBA Playoffs. Ewing had a double double with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. Starks led the Knicks with 22 points and shot 5-7 from the three point stripe.

Unlike their previous playoff matchups in the Riley era, the Knicks began the series on the road due to the Cavaliers winning the regular season tiebreaker. However, the series proved to be easy for the Knicks. Throughout the playoffs, the Knicks also wore their new alternate road uniforms with the darker blue uniforms with black panels trimmed in orange. Those uniforms became the Knicks primary road jerseys in the 1997-98 season.

On This Date: 20-0 Run helps the Knicks sink the Cavaliers in Game 1

April 25th 1996: Knicks go on a 20-0 run in the 4th quarter to sink the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals

Through the first 3 quarters, the Cavaliers & Knicks were stuck in a tight battle. But with 9 minutes remaining in the 4th quarter and the Cavs up 75-74, Patrick Ewing hit a jumper in the lane to begin a 20-0 run. The run put the Knicks up 94-75 and they cruised to a 106-83 blowout victory.

The fun was facilitated by some ridiculous ball movement. The Knicks had 32 assists with only 4 turnovers. 3 Knicks had 7 assists, including Anthony Mason (10 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), John Starks (21 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists), and Derek Harper (12 points, 7 assists). Ewing led the way with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocked shots.

The Cavaliers’ constant double teaming facilitated the ball movement. Hubert Davis (5 three pointers made, 4 in the 4th quarter) and John Starks (6 three pointers) were recipients of the great passing. Starks & Davis helped lead the Knicks to a team playoff record of 17 three pointers made.

 

On This Date: Melo’s 42 point playoff outburst against the Boston Celtics

April 19th 2011: Carmelo Anthony caries Knicks with 42 points in Game 2 loss

Without Chauncey Billups due to a knee injury and Amare Stoudemire in the 2nd half due to back spasms (after attempting dunks in practice), Carmelo Anthony single handedly willed the Knicks during this game. Melo scored 42 points and had 17 rebounds and 6 assists. He led the Knicks in just about every offensive category. However, it wasn’t enough to defeat the Boston Celtics as the Knicks lost 96-93.

In prime Melo fashion, he scored from all over the court. Whether it was in the paint, in the midrange (via his signature jab steps), or from the three point arc, Melo was proficient and neither Jeff Green or Paul Pierce could stop him alone. He kept the team in the game despite being severely outmanned by the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Ultimately, Kevin Garnett hit the go-ahead basket in the final seconds. Melo tried to feed the ball to Jared Jeffries after seeing a double team, but Jeffries fumbled the go-ahead pass and the Celtics stole the ball from him.

Melo’s performance in Game 2 made me wonder what happened if the NBA Lockout didn’t happen. Perhaps a proper offseason would have helped coach D’Antoni fully utilize Melo’s talents (especially on the passing end). We may have seen a souped up Olympic Melo, but that memory will only exist in our dreams.


April 19th 1996: Patrick Ewing records his only triple double

Patrick Ewing recorded his only triple double in his NBA career with 28 points, 15 rebounds, and 11 assists. Unfortunately, the Knicks lost to the Charlotte Hornets 115-108. The game was merely important for the Knicks to establish playoff seeding and home court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Future Knick Larry Johnson hurt the Knicks with 28 points and 18 rebounds.

 

On This Date: Knicks fire Don Nelson and promote Jeff Van Gundy to head coach

March 8th 1996:  The New York Knicks fire Don Nelson and appoint Jeff Van Gundy as the new head coach

In one of the shortest head coaching tenures in modern NBA history, the Knicks fired Don Nelson after only 59 games despite a 34-25 record with the team. Unlike the Golden State Warriors, where Nelson feuded with Chris Webber, the entire team had issues with Nelson. Nelson favored a modern up-tempo style of basketball while the players wanted more of the same under the Pat Riley era. He centered the offense around Anthony Mason and unleashed his skills as a point-forward to the disdain of Patrick Ewing. Ewing obviously favored centering the offense from the low post. In the weeks leading up to his firing, Nelson benched John Starks and had Hubert Davis replace him in the 4th quarters of games.

The final straw was when Nelson stated – off the record with people in Madison Square Garden – that the Knicks had to move on from Patrick Ewing and try to trade him to Orlando for Shaquille O’Neal. The word caught back to Ewing and the relationship was toast. The core Knicks – led by Ewing – sparked a mini-insurrection until Ernie Grunfeld fired Nelson.

In reality, the Knicks roster were insistent on maintaining the status quo and the style of offense and defense that thrived under Pat Riley. Nelson wanted to implement a modern, but eccentric approach to basketball that an old veteran team was not willing to accept. Some of his initial philosophies, including using Anthony Mason as a point forward, have been incorporated in today’s modern NBA.

Jeff Van Gundy replaced Nelson as the interim head coach. Van Gundy, then 34, stuck around as an assistant coach dating back to the Stu Jackson era. His offensive and defensive philosophies were largely influenced from the Riley era. He centered the offense back around Ewing and re-emphasized defense. The Jeff Van Gundy Knicks personified tough defense while often sacrificing high scoring outputs on offense.

Furthermore, Van Gundy inherited assistant coach Don Chaney from Nelson’s coaching staff to be his full-time assistant coach until his resignation in 2001. During his tenure with the Knicks, he played a role in developing 3 assistant coaches that eventually became NBA head coaches in Tom Thibodeau, Steve Clifford, and Mike Malone.

On This Date: Pat Riley receives boos in return to MSG

December 19th 1995:  Pat Riley receives boos in his return to Madison Square Garden as head coach of the Miami Heat

This date marked the official beginning of the Knicks/Heat rivalry on the basketball floor, as Pat Riley aka Benedict Riley aka Pat The Rat returned to MSG with a swarm of boos as the head coach of the Miami Heat.

In the revenge game, the Knicks routed the Heat, sans Alonzo Mourning, 89-70.  

Patrick Ewing led the Knicks with 18 points and 16 rebounds. Future Knick Kurt Thomas had a double double with 20 points and 11 rebounds.  

After 4 years as head coach of the Knicks, Riley abruptly resigned via fax after a disappointing 1994-95 season where the team lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers.  

Riley longed for control of basketball operations and a small ownership stake.  ITT Inc. bought the Knicks in 1995 are had no intentions to relinquish ownership to Riley.  Additionally, neither Dave Checketts or Ernie Grunfeld were in danger to lose their job to Riley.

Riley supposedly wanted a contract of 5 years, $50 million and a 25% stake in the franchise.  Checketts countered with a 5 year $15 million deal.  Therefore, Riley decided to immediately resign.

The Miami Heat signed Riley to a 5 year $15 million contract, but gave him a 10% stake in the franchise and the additional role of president of basketball operations.  The Knicks accused the Heat of tampering and received $1 million and the 1996 Heat 1st round pick as compensation.  The Knicks drafted Walter McCarty with the pick.

 

On This Date: Knicks beat Vancouver Grizzlies in inaugural matchup

November 19, 1995: The newly franchised Vancouver Grizzlies make their first visit to MSG and lose to the New York Knicks 98-93

The 1995-96 season marked the inaugural season for the Vancouver Grizzlies. November 19th marked their first matchup against the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden. In the 98-93 Knicks victory, Derek Harper led the team with 25 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals. Patrick Ewing had a double double with 13 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks.

For the Grizzlies, former Knick Greg Anthony led the team with 18 points and 7 assists. Former Laker Byron Scott came off the bench to score 10 points. Their top draft pick, Bryant “Big Country” Reeves, scored  5 points in 10 minutes.

In addition to the Grizzlies, the Toronto Raptors also joined the NBA and also participated in the expansion draft.  Teams could protect 8 players who were under contract or restricted free agents.  Neither team could select any unrestricted free agents.  However, no team could lose more than one player in the expansion draft.  The Knicks protected Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Derek Harper, John Starks, Charlie Ward, Charles Smith, Monty Williams, & Charlie Ward.

The Knicks consequently left Greg Anthony, Doug Christie, Herb Williams unprotected in the expansion draft.  For Greg Anthony, the team drafted Charlie Ward in the previous season and made Anthony expendable.  While Christie was a promising player, the Knicks thought Charlie Ward & Monty Williams had more potential.

Greg Anthony was the Grizzlies’ 1st pick and spent the next two seasons with the Grizzlies before jumping around the league with the Supersonics & Grizzlies, amongst notable teams.

Additionally, the Grizzlies hired former Knicks coach Stu Jackson to be the general manager.  Jackson lasted 5 seasons before accepting a position within the NBA league offices.  Jackson’s notable transactions included drafting Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Mike Bibby, & Steve Francis (who eventually forced a trade to the Rockets).

On This Date: Don Nelson wins his first game as the coach of the Knicks

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.