The 1990 New York Knicks were a team that seemed on the verge of humiliation before coming up with an under-the-radar signature moment in a franchise history that has been long short of them.
A team with Patrick Ewing in the middle and a tough rebounder in Charles Oakley down low could cause anyone problems on the interior. Defense was suspect, as neither guard Gerald Wilkins or small forward Kiki Vandeweghe were especially renowned for their willingness to guard people.
But it was still a respectable team, if not a great one and on the bench was a soon-to-be top point guard in Mark Jackson. He would one day be one of the best assist men in the league, go on to be an good ABC analyst and today is the head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Coached by Stu Jackson, the Knicks went 45-37 and ended up as the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The playoff opponent was the Boston Celtics, who still had the big names of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish started on the frontline, but the Big Three was aging. The Celtics hadn’t won a title since 1986 and they’d lost progressively earlier in the playoffs each year. If the trend continued, they would be due to lose in the first round this year, but after a 52-win regular season and then taking the first two games in Boston Garden it didn’t look like that would happen.
The 157-128 loss in Game 2 was particularly humiliating for New York fans, as it was a playoff scoring record. With the first round a best-of-five at this time, the Knicks had no slack and the bounced back with two wins at Madison Square Garden. The stage was set for a Sunday afternoon in Boston Garden, a place the Knicks hadn’t won at in six years.
Ewing stepped up to the moment with 31 points and even dished out 10 assists. In the midst of tight 101-99 game, New York ripped off a 12-2 run at the critical moment and Bird missed a dunk with a little over four minutes left, a moment that lives in Boston sports infamy. It was more symbolic of the end of an era rather than anything that really decided the outcome, as the Knicks dominated the end of the game and won 121-114.
The sweetest wins aren’t always the ones that win championships or even set them up. Sometimes it can be a win like this and even though Detroit knocked New York out in five games one round later, the sweet scent of a Garden Party thrown by the 1990 New York Knicks surely lasted through the entire offseason.