This is the twenty-third in a series (of indefinite length and regularity) of examinations into different games, events and decisions that impacted Knicks history in some way, shape or form. Stories that are not as famous as, say, “The Dunk” or Willis Reed playing Game 7, but still have a place in Knicks history, especially for die-hard fans. Here is an archive of all the stories featured so far.
Remember last week’s column about the 20-point comeback the Knicks had against the Miami Heat during the 1999 season? The comeback that spurred the Knicks on to make the playoffs? I originally was going to write about a much odder game from the 1999 season, but I figured that I would be remiss in not mentioning the comeback story first. Now that I’ve done so, we can examine one of the strangest games that the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat ever played – May 5, 1999, the game that neither team wanted to win!
Due to their 3-1 record against the Charlotte Hornets and the Toronto Raptors collapsing, the Knicks entered their last game of the season with a playoff spot assured.
Meanwhile, with a defeat over the Atlanta Hawks a day earlier, the Heat had locked themselves into the best record in the Eastern Conference. They had a half game lead on the Indiana Pacers entering the May 5th game, but since they held the tie-breaker (if the Heat won, they would win due to the second tie-breaker, “record against conference,” as they would be 31-16 as opposed to the Pacers’ 30-15, and if the Heat lost, they would win due to the third-tie breaker, “record against playoff teams,” as the Heat would be 13-10 while the Pacers were actually under .500 against Eastern Conference playoff teams! The two teams split their season series together, 2-2, which is why they had to go the next level of tie-breakers).
The Knicks, meanwhile, entered the game trailing the Philadelphia 76ers by one game and the Milwaukee Bucks by two games. The Bucks entered the night as the #6 seed, the Sixers as the #7 seed and the Knicks as the #8 seed (the Knicks actually entered with the same record as the Hornets, who they had the tie-breaker against). If the Knicks won and the Sixers lost, the Knicks would get the #7 seed because they held the tie-breaker (they were 3-1 against the Sixers).
The Sixers, by the way, were playing the Detroit Pistons, who entered the night with the chance to steal the #4 seed (and homecourt in the first round) against the Atlanta Hawks. The Pistons trailed the Hawks by a game, but held the tie-breaker. The Sixers, meanwhile, held the tie-breaker against the Bucks if the Bucks lost. So the Sixers and the Pistons (who would be the first game that night) had a lot to play for in their game.
The Knicks and Heat, meanwhile, had something to play for – but not the way that you normally figure.
You see, the Heat had lost to this same Knicks team in the playoffs one year earlier, and the confidence that the Knicks showed in the aforementioned 20-point comeback at the end of April showed that the Knicks were very confident against the Heat. The Knicks, meanwhile, were not as confident about playing the #2 seeded Pacers, who had ousted the Knicks in the second round of the playoffs the previous season.
So here we had two teams who both preferred for the other team to win the game!
The Heat wanted the Knicks to get the #7 seed and the Knicks wanted to get the #8 seed.
However, the Heat obviously cared more about losing the game than the Knicks cared about losing the game (perhaps it was because the Knicks could win and still be the #8 seed, provided that the Sixers won), as you can see from the starting lineup that the Heat put out there.
Rex Walters started at the point in place of Tim Hardaway
Voshon Lenard started at shooting guard in place of Dan Majerle
and, yes, Duane Causwell started at center in place of Alonzo Mourning.
Hardaway, Majerle and Mourning all sat out the game entirely.
Jamal Mashburn and PJ Brown both started, as normal, but Brown only played 15 minutes (Terry Mills, on the other hand, played 29 minutes – Mills went on to play zero minutes in the playoffs, and there were two blowouts during the playoffs where the back-ups got to play some minutes, but Mills never got into the game).
On the Knicks’ end, Patrick Ewing and Chris Childs both sat out the game, so anyone expecting a tip-off between Alonzo Mourning and Patrick Ewing instead got Chris Dudley and Duane Causwell!
I should apologize to Duane Causwell. The guy was a first round pick of the Sacramento Kings in 1990 and was a perfectly serviceable center for a number of years for the Kings, including a stint as Olden Polynice’s back-up when the Kings actually made it to the playoffs in 1996 (try to guess the Kings’ starting rotation in the 1996 Playoffs! The answer will be at the end of the column). And after finishing his career in Sacramento in 1997, he hung on as a back-up center in Miami for four seasons. 11 years in the NBA is nothing to sneeze at. So he really doesn’t deserve to be teased, but I really don’t mean any harm by it. Sorry, Duane!
In any event, also during the game, the Knicks saw Allan Houston and Larry Johnson play less minutes than David Wingate and Rick Brunson. Brunson, by the way, had a season-high 12 assists in the game. Ben Davis saw 1/7th of his season minutes in the game (3 minutes, to be precise).
So the Knicks seemed like they were trying a little harder than the Heat, but still, entering the third quarter, the Knicks “clung” to an eight-point lead. There was still plenty of time to mysteriously start missing baskets, if need be (and in fact, the Knicks’ lead was only three entering the fourth) especially as the Pistons were leading the Sixers late in the game. Not many people in the crowd knew that, though, as Jeff Van Gundy had team officials shut the scoreboard down in Madison Square Garden so that the players would not be distracted. However, team officials would let the coaching staff know, and during the third quarter, Van Gundy was informed that the Pistons were up 2 points with 20 seconds left and the Pistons had the ball. Van Gundy cursed under his breath. He had tried to pretend that he did not care what seed the Knicks received, but everyone knew they wanted the #8 seed and the Heat.
And then something amazing happened – down 2, Allen Iverson stole the ball from the Pistons, dribbled up court and hit a pullup jumper with 8 seconds left in the game to tie the score at 93 apiece! The Sixers would go on to win the game in overtime, something the Knicks learned of before the fourth quarter started. With their seeding locked in, the Knicks went for it, and crushed the Heat in the final period, winning 101-88.
After the game, Tim Hardaway said, ‘I think it was destiny, just destiny. So be it. They said they wanted us. They think they can beat us. They get their chance.”
The Knicks’ Larry Johnson exclaimed (referring to Dale Davis and Antonio Davis, who destroyed the Knicks in the 1998 Playoffs), “‘This is better than those Davis boys, man. With the Heat, if they call out a play, we know it before they do. And vice versa.”
PJ Brown had some ominous words, “I’m looking at the total picture. ‘I want to win it all. It doesn’t sound like you want to win it all when you’re setting it on one team. ” Well, as we know, the Heat did not win it all, as the Knicks matched up well enough to win the series 3-2 on a last-second shot in Game 5 by Allan Houston.
So I guess the Heat were right to have tried to lose!
The Sixers, by the way, ended up getting the #6 seed because the New Jersey Nets (led by Stephon Marbury’s 41 points) defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, dropping the Bucks to the #7 seed. This became important because the Sixers actually defeated the #3 seed, the Orlando Magic. Okay, I guess in the long run it really didn’t matter at all (as the Pacers then swept the Sixers), but still, it was nice for the Sixers!
Thanks to Steve Popper and Selena Roberts for the great quotes from the game.
If you folks dig these stories, you’d probably also get a kick out of my Sports Legends Revealed site. There is an archive of the ones about basketball here. I also have one Sports Legend featured every Tuesday at the LA Times.
If you have any suggestions for future Unsung Knicks History pieces, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’d prefer you share your suggestions via e-mail rather than in the comments section, so we can keep them a surprise! Thanks!
(The 1996 Sacramento Kings’ starting rotation was:
PG Tyus Edney
SG Mitch Richmond
SF Billy Owens
PF Brian Grant
C Olden Polynice)