By Ralph Guerrero @ralphguerrero
Charlie Ward, Latrell Sprewell and Chris Childs. If you’re a Knicks fan over the age of 25, these names probably ring a bell.
Allan Houston, Patrick Ewing, Kurt Thomas, Larry Johnson and Marcus Camby all currently play some role in the organization.
What do all these names have in common? They were all a part of the 1999-2000 New York Knicks. The last Knicks team to actually make it out of the first round with a series victory. The Knicks swept the Vince Carter-led Toronto Raptors 3-0 in the best of five series that year, but eventually lose in the Eastern Conference Finals, in six games, to the Indiana Pacers.
Since then, the Knicks have been bounced out of post-season play in the first round four times and missed the playoffs eight times.
Following the “Summer of LeBron”, the Knicks have completely flipped their roster over what seems to be dozens of times.
Amar’e Stoudemire induced the Madison Square Garden crowd to shower him with a chorus of M-V-P chants after proclaiming “the Knicks are back.” We had the trade of nearly half the team for the services of Carmelo Anthony. Finally, the passing of Linsanity brought in the current group of, shall we say, “experienced” veterans. Mike D’Antoni was replaced by the man “he hired” to be his defensive coordinator. This, of course, was due to a mutual decision to end his tenure.
Yet through all these twists and turns. Through all the day-to-day injuries that turned into season and even career ending ones, the Knicks winning percentage somehow improved each of the last three seasons.
This team has overcome a host of lengthy injuries to Amar’e Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas and Iman Shumpert. Despite these players all missing at least 37 games, the Knicks finished in first place in the Atlantic Division, second in the East behind the Miami Heat, and with the seventh best record in the league.
The Knicks currently include the NBA scoring champion in Carmelo Anthony, the NBA sixth man of the year in J.R. Smith, All-Stars in Anthony and Tyson Chandler and the repeat winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award in Jason Kidd.
This season, the Knicks had an offensive rating of 111.1. That is the highest since the 88-89 season. Yes, that was the Rick Pitino era. The defense began to improve last year under D’Antoni and this year their defensive rating, 106.3, was as low as it has been for the Knicks since 2003-2004 if we exclude last year’s lockout-shortened season.
The Knicks are holding, and I use that term loosely, the Celtics to 40.9% shooting and just 80.5 points per game. They did not even break 80 in the first three games of the series.
The Hawks have surprised everyone by evening the series with Indiana at two games apiece.
No matter the opponent, the Knicks will finally award the MSG faithful with something to cheer about this post-season. No longer will the fans be cheering for a team missing its starting point guard and power forward due to injuries en route to being swept. There will be no unexpected and ill-conceived confetti pouring down from the famous rafters. The cheers and chants will be for a team the crowd actually believes in. A team they honestly have faith in.
This Knicks team, built on veteran leadership in the form of Jason Kidd. Built on the back of offensive juggernaut turned team leader. Built on players who coaches would not take a chance on due to perceived attitude problems. And built on the back of a proud champion and former defensive player of the year. This Knicks team, right now, for these fans deserve to be in the position they are in right now. Because they worked for 82 games to get there.
With one more win, they can party like its 1999. With their eyes toward meeting an old rival from South Beach in the conference finals, they look to take care of business. Thirteen years and one day since they captured their last first round victory, they look to send the Boston Celtics home. Whether it’s in a bus or a coffin remains to be seen.