Tonight, The Celtics and Knicks will play their first meaningful game in quite some time. Back in the day, when the incomparable Larry Bird and Bernard King were battling, the divisional rivalry was tangible.
In addition to Boston and New York being two of the three remaining original 11 NBA franchises (the Warriors are the other), the teams have had 12 postseason battles, with each walking away with six series victories.
Paul Pierce laughed off the suggestion that this was a rivalry game. Considering the recent fortunes of both teams, who can blame him? But if he took a minute to examine the situation in its full breadth, he’d realize that it is, indeed, a slumbering yet storied rivalry that dates back to the NBA’s first days.
When the Knicks were bullying their way into title fights with Jordan’s Bulls in the ’90s, Boston was famished, subsiding on wet food stamps and government cheese. They were still stumbling, like the majority of the great Roy Jones Jr.’s opponents in his prime, from the loss of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis, as well as the decline and/or retirements of Bird, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and the brilliant post practitioner, Kevin McHale.
In the 1960’s and ’70s, you could not find two other teams with more animus directed at the other. At the conclusion of Bill Russell’s incredible run, the Knicks supplanted the Celtics as the Beasts of the East with their string of Finals appearances. After Russell’s last title in ‘69, the Knicks took the chip in ‘70. That title came to be defined by a gimpy Willis Reed limping onto the Garden floor for Game 7 and banging in his first two jumpers, though it should be known for point guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier’s remarkable 36 points, 19 assists and 5 steals.
The Knicks were back in the Finals in ‘72, after having knocked Boston out in the Conference Finals. Though they lost to the powerhouse Lakers squad with Gail Goodrich, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Jim McMillian who went 69 and 13 that year, they bounced back with the superfluous back-court of Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Frazier, defeating the Lakers in ‘73 after again knocking out Boston in the Conference Finals.
When I was entering my teens, Boston and New York met up for an epic throw-down in the ‘84 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The phenomenal Bernard King, a Brooklyn native and living, breathing super-hero, was just coming off of his playoff destruction of Detroit. He’d scored over 40 points in four games and dropped 36 in another against the Pistons.
The Celtics Cedric Maxwell said Bernard would not serve him, or his team in such a fashion. Boston sweated out a classic seven-game series and went on to win the NBA title. But contrary to Cornbread’s bravado, he and his team got scorched by The King of New York.
The last meaningful series was played in 1990, when Patrick Ewing, Mo Cheeks, Charles Oakley, Gerald Wilkins, Mark “Action” Jackson, Trent Tucker, Johnny Newman, Kiki Vandeweghe, John Starks and Rod Strickland led New York back from a 2-0 defecit, beating Boston in the decisive game 5 at the Boston Garden.
The Knicks, to be blunt, have not been relevant since Allan Houston, Marcus Camby, Latrell Sprewell, Larry Johnson, Charlie Ward and Chris Childs almost shocked the world in ‘99. But today is a new day.
Tonight, we just might be witnessing the renewal of the enmity and antagonism that has characterized this get-together in the past.
Hey Paul Pierce, you might not remember, but I do. Back in the days….man, c’mon! They were gettin’ it in. And there are many others out there ready for the saga to continue. I remember way back when…