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On This Date in Sports May 14, 1997: Knicks Get Riled Up

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The New York Knicks wilt in Miami, losing 96-81 in Game 5. The Knicks had a chance to close the series, but the Heat proved battled back to stay in the series. Making matters worse, a fight breaks out between Charlie Ward of the Knicks and Miami's P.J. Brown with two minutes left. The fight near New York's bench involved John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Allan Houston. All the players who left the bench for the Knicks were suspended, leaving the Knicks shorthanded in the next two games as Miami won the series in seven games. 

In 1991, the New York Knicks named Pat Riley as their new coach. Riley had won four NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and, after taking a year off, decided to return to coaching with the Knicks. Riley was the coach New York needed to return to elite status in the NBA. Riley's Knicks battled the Chicago Bulls to a seven-game series with a tough, tenacious defense in his first season. The following season saw the Knicks and Bulls battle again in the Eastern Conference FInals, losing in six games. Both series were the toughest tests that the Bulls faced during their dynasty. 

The Knicks went to the NBA Finals in 1994 but lost a heartbreaking seven-game battle with the Houston Rockets. In 1995, the Knicks again lost a seven-game series, this time to the Indiana Pacers in the second round. After the series, Pat Riley stunned New York fans by leaving to coach the Miami Heat. The Heat struggled in Riley's first season, being swept out of the first round. However, he soon built a Miami team in the same defensive mold as the Knicks, leading Miami to a 61-21 record and their first division title in 1997. 

The Knicks felt jilted by the exit of Pat Riley. After briefly giving the job to Don Nelson, Jeff Van Gundy, a longtime assistant, took over the coaching reigns as the Bulls rolled over the Knicks in the second round of the 1996 playoffs. In 1997, the Knicks finished second in the Atlantic with a 57-35 record, earning the third seed. In the playoffs, the Knicks swept the Charlotte Hornets, while Miami won their first playoff series in franchise history, beating the Orlando Magic in five games to set up a showdown between Riley's Heat and the Knicks. 

In the series opener, the Knicks beat the Heat 88-79, as Allan Houston led all scorers with 27 points. Miami bounced back to win Game 2 in Miami won 88-84 as Tim Hardaway dropped 34 points. The series moved to Madison Square Garden for Game 3, with New York holding on to a 77-73 win, as Patrick Ewing had 25 points and blocked a shot at the end of the game to preserve the victory. New York continued to control the series as they took a 3-1 series lead with an 89-76 win in Game 4. 

Down 3-1 at Miami Arena, the Heat came out and had their best effort of the series, beating the Knicks 96-81. Alonzo Mourning had a big game, with 28 points and nine rebounds. The Knicks were still up in the series and would have been favored to win Game 6 at home. However, with the starters on the bench, the Knicks got suckered into a fight they could not win. P.J. Brown got into a scuffle with Charlie Ward near the Knicks bench. The NBA had a zero-tolerance policy for players leaving a bench to get involved in a fight. John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Allan Houston all left the bench and tried to play peacemaker but were subject to suspension due to the NBA rules. The Heat, meanwhile, stayed seated at the other end of the court. 

P.J. Brown was determined to be the instigator, and he was suspended for the remainder of the series. The Knicks, however, were hit the hardest as Charlie Ward, John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, and Allan Houston. The NBA staggered the suspensions over two games, but the damage was done, as Brown's fight ended up deciding the series. Ward, Ewing, and Houston were suspended for Game 6, as the Heat won in New York 95-90. In Game 7, the Knicks were without Johnson and Starks, losing 101-90. 

Miami would lose to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals in five games. Over the next three seasons, the Knicks and Heat would develop an intense rivalry, with New York eliminating Miami in 1998, 1999, and 2000. All three series went the distance, with the Knicks upsetting Miami as an eighth seed in the first round of the 1999 NBA Playoffs.