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On This Date in Sports May 16, 1999: Beating the Heat

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The New York Knicks become the second eight seed to upset a number one seed as they beat the Miami Heat 78-77 on an Allan Houston foul line jumper with 0.8 seconds left in Game 5 of their first-round series. It was the third straight year the Knicks and Heat battled in the postseason, in a growing intense rivalry. The Knicks would go on to reach the NBA Finals.

After Michael Jordan’s second retirement the league was wide open as the Chicago Bulls dynasty was dismantled by General Manager Jerry Krause. The New York Knicks were a team in transition under coach Jeff Van Gundy. As the season was shortened by a lockout the Knicks had to deal with Patrick Ewing in decline, while dealing with a series of injuries. They had acquired Latrell Sprewell who had been out a year following the choking of P.J. Carlesimo with the Golden State Warriors. Despite the struggles, the Knicks edged into the playoffs with a record of 27-23, one game better than the Charlotte Hornets.

The Miami Heat were a team on a steady rise under Pat Riley. In the truncated 1998/99 season they finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference at 33-17. Over the four years since leaving the Knicks, Riley had developed an intense rivalry with his former team. This exploded in 1997 when the teams met in the second round of the playoffs. After falling behind 3-1 in the series the Heat delivered a 96-81 win in Game 5. In closing moments, a fight broke out that would change the who series, as several Knicks wandered off the bench to look at the fight on the other side of the floor. Under the NBA’s strict rules this earned players like Patrick Ewing, Allen Houston, Larry Johnson, John Starks, and Charlie Ward automatic suspensions. The Heat would win the series in seven games. The teams met again in 1998 as Alonzo Mourning fought Larry Johnson, with Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy infamously wrapped around the Heat star’s leg. With Mourning suspended for Game 5, the Knicks would win that best-of-five series to get a measure of revenge.

The third straight season the teams met would bring out more intensity as the Knicks were not your traditional eight seed, having made it to at least the second round of the playoffs every year since 1992. The lockout and breakup of the Bulls had shortened the season to 50 games opening the door for one of the more wide-open NBA postseasons. In Game 1, the Knicks got 22 points from both Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell to dominate Miami, 95-75. With Alonzo Mourning scoring a game-high 26 points, with eight rebounds, the Heat recovered to even the series with an 83-73 win in Game 2.

As the series shifted to Madison Square Garden the Knicks showed the ability to dominate as Sprewell again led the way off the bench with 20 points as Miami struggled all game, shooting just 34% from the field as the Knicks won the game 97-73. With a chance to close the series in Game 4 at home, the Knicks came out flat in the second half, scoring just 28 points as the Heat rallied to win the game 87-72, sending the series back to South Beach for Game 5.

Game 5, the final playoff game at Miami Arena, was the best game of the series as the teams battled back and forth all afternoon. Patrick Ewing hobbled most of the series, had his best game, scoring a game-best 22 points, while Alonzo Mourning led the way for Miami with 21. P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn each had 16 for Miami, while Dan Marjele had a game to forget, making just one of six shots, for three points. The Knicks also solid efforts from Latrell Sprewell who had 14 off the bench, while Larry Johnson scored 13. However, it was Allen Houston with 12 points who made the big shot. Trailing 77-76 after a turnover by Tim Hardaway, the Knicks, who at one time were down by 13 points had the ball with 20 seconds left, looking to win the game with one last shot. After the ball was knocked out of bounds by Miami, the Knicks got one last inbound play, with Allan Houston taking a jumper from the foul line to give the Knicks a 78-77 lead with 0.8 seconds left. The Heat would get the ball to Terry Porter, who launched up a three at the buzzer that hit off the rim as the Knicks advanced to the second round.

The Knicks would take the momentum of their Game 5 win in Miami and swept the Atlanta Hawks in four straight games. They then became the first eight seed to reach the NBA Finals as they stunned the Indiana Pacers in six games, thanks in part to a key four-point play by Larry Johnson in Game 3. The Knicks run would end in heartbreak, as they were beaten by the San Antonio Spurs in five games in the NBA Finals.