in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The New York Knicks reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season, surviving a seven-game war with the Miami Heat. The Knicks beat the Heat 83-82 at American Airlines Arena, as the Knicks defense hold Miami without a point over the final 90 seconds as Patrick Ewing’s dunk with 1:20 remaining was the difference. The Knicks would lose to the Indiana Pacers in six games and have only won one playoff series since.
After reaching the NBA Finals as an eighth seed in 1999, the New York Knicks coached by Jeff Van Gundy showed they were still among the elite teams in the NBA, as they posted a record of 50-32, good enough for third overall in the Eastern Conference. In the first round, the Knicks made quick work of the Toronto Raptors, in their first-ever playoff appearance, winning three straight games for the sweep. It marked the ninth consecutive season that the Knicks reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Awaiting the New York Knicks in the second round was the Miami Heat coached by Pat Riley. The Heat had posted a record of 52-30 to edge the Knicks in the Atlantic Division. The Heat also reached the second round with ease, sweeping the Detroit Pistons. The Knicks and Heat had developed an intense rivalry after Riley left New York for Miami in 1995. It was the fourth straight season that had met in the playoffs. All four series went the distance, with Miami winning a controversial fight-filled seven-game series in 1997, while the Knicks won a first-round series in 1998 and 1999.
The series started at Miami’s new American Airlines Arena, which had opened only a few months before the playoffs. The Heat and Knicks were near mirror images of each other as Pat Riley used the same blueprint, especially after acquiring Alonso Mourning. Mourning would be the difference in Game 1, scoring 26 points as Miami beat New York 87-83. In Game 2, the Knicks got a significant defensive effort to even the series with an 82-76 win, as six players reached double-digits for New York, with Charlie Ward and Patrick Ewing each scoring 13 points to lead the way.
The intensity picked up as the series shifted to Madison Square Garden for Game 3. Both teams played aggressively on defense, as the game went to overtime tied 68-68. Miami would win the defensive battle 77-76 on a shot by Anthony Carter to regain the advantage in the series. In Game 4, facing a must-win, the Knicks had the best offensive effort of the series, posting 91-83 win to square the series again. Again it was balanced scoring for New York as Ward led the team with 20 points, while Allan Houston had 17. Back in Miami for Game 5, the Heat got big games from Jamaal Mashburn and Alonzo Mourning to again take the series lead with an 87-81 victory.
Smelling blood in the water, the Miami Heat went into Game 6 at Madison Square Garden, looking to smoother the Knicks as they built an 18-point lead in the first half. Leading 45-30 at the half as Mourning scored a game-high 22 points with ten rebounds. In the second half the Heat when cold, as they managed just 25 points as the Knicks roared back to win the game 72-70 as Houston scored 21 while Latrell Sprewell and Patrick Ewing each had 15 points for New York.
The series would come down to a seventh game in Miami. Again the Heat got off to a good start, taking an 11-point lead. However, the Knicks with a strong second-quarter rallied to take a 45-39 lead at the half as Sprewell led the way with 24 points. With Alonzo Mourning leading all scorers, with 29 points, the Heat regained momentum in the third quarter as the game was tied 65-65 going into the fourth quarter. Through the final 12 minutes, the game remained tight, as Tim Hardaway hit a three-point bucket with 1:32 left to give Miami an 82-81 lead. Back the other way, New York got the lead back on a dunk by Patrick Ewing with 1:20 left. Neither team would score over the final 80 seconds as the Knicks advanced with an 83-82 win.
The Indiana Pacers would defeat the Knicks in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. Following the season, they would trade Patrick Ewing. In the two decades since, the Knicks have won just one playoff series in 2013. They have made only five playoff appearances over that time.