Another link in the chain
NEW YORK — Imagine being a Bruins fan whose team hasn’t won it all since 1972. Oops, didn’t mean to go there. Sorry.
The Knicks haven’t been NBA champions since 1973, see? I was just trying to draw a connection.
Actually, it’s a pretty interesting one. New York fancies itself as a basketball town, just as Boston regards itself as the best hockey town in America (sorry, Detroit). The Knicks and Bruins each won the championship in 1970, with the Bruins winning again in ’72 and the Knicks winning the following year.
And it wasn’t simply that they each won. It was how they won that created a special place in the hearts of purists in their respective sports. For these were the hallowed Big, Bad Bobby Orr Bruins, celebrated in song and story. Such hockey has never remotely been seen in these parts again.
It was likewise the era of the Red Holzman Knicks, who were both the best halfcourt team and No. 1 defensive outfit of their time. Dave DeBusschere, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dick Barnett, Earl Monroe, and, most of all, the legendary Walt “Clyde’’ Frazier really did transform the sport into something approaching athletic artistry.
From late December 1968, when DeBusschere was acquired from Detroit, until the end of the 1973-74 season, Madison Square Garden rocked, and believe me when I tell you it had a distinctive sound. There really was no better place to play.
There have been periodic throwback eras for those fans and their descendants. Hubie Brown and Bernard King brought them to the Eastern Conference semifinals Game 7 a gainst the Celtics in 1984, but Larry Bird said, “No, I don’t think so,’’ and that was that. A decade later a Patrick Ewing-led squad had a 3-2 lead going back to Houston for Games 6 and 7 in the Finals, but it lost them both. You might recall the grisly saga of John Starks, who shot 2 for 18 in Game 7, including a dreadful 0 for 10 in the fourth quarter of a 90-84 loss.
Five years after that, the Knicks made it all the way to the Finals as an eight seed. San Antonio brushed them aside in five.
There’s the good stuff covering the last 37 years.
But tonight something very unusual will take place at Madison Square Garden. Tonight there will be an NBA game of true import in what management immodestly refers to as “The World’s Most Famous Arena.’’ The Knicks will take on the Boston Celtics — a rival in one form or another for the entirety of the league’s existence — in what is, without any need for embellishment, the most significant professional basketball game played here in at least seven years. That’s a long wait for something that actually matters.
Since making the playoffs with a 48-34 record in 2000-01, the Knicks have only made it to the postseason once, a four-game series loss to the Nets in 2003-04, when they were 39-43. The average Knick season in the last nine years is 31-51.
No one was pointing to this game when the schedule was released. The free agent signing of Phoenix scoring machine Amar’e Stoudemire was going to improve the Knicks to some degree, but only raging diehards actually thought they could make the playoffs, and when they started off with a 3-8 record, who on the outside didn’t smirk and say, “Same old Knicks!’’?
But something happened. The Knicks won in Sacramento Nov. 17, and then they won in Oakland vs. the Warriors, and then they won in Los Angeles (Clippers), and they must have enjoyed the experience because they will take the floor tonight as winners of 13 of their last 14 games. The Garden is once again rocking, and you can be certain it will set a season decibel level tonight when people cast their eyes at the green-clad tyrants who have destroyed the will of their team so many times since Bill Russell showed up in 1956.
They’ve got a new main man now. Stoudemire, the $100 million man, looks like a bargain. He has scored 30 or more points in his last eight games, and every time he goes to the line he is greeted with chants of “MVP, MVP,’’ which, frankly, he would be if the balloting were to take place today. He has become their leader in every way, fooling the many who had derided him as a creature of Steve Nash.
Naysayers have pointed out that the Knicks have feasted on bottom-feeders during this stretch, having beaten just two teams with winning records (the slumping Hornets and the somewhat embattled Nuggets).
But they have been doing it on the road, which surely counts for something. Not many NBA teams win eight straight away from home, at any time. The Knicks have.
They are also doing it the old-fashioned way — they are running people out of the building. They have become a typical Mike D’Antoni shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later team, having broken 110 six times during the eight-game overall win streak. (No, that’s not the way the Old Knicks did it, but we’re not likely to see anyone move the ball like that again).
So here come the Celtics, representing the Knicks’ biggest test of the season. This will be the night people will find out how good the Knicks really are.
If you’re a Bruins fan, you can relate to rebirth, to renewed hope, to the feeling that, you know, some happy days might really and truly be here again. The Knicks and Bruins, spiritual brothers. Who knew?