Knicks vs. Pacers and reminiscing about a classic playoff rivalry

Young Knicks fans, those in their 20s and older, are like all sports fans their age: They think the good days are now, especially because of the days and nights their team just had against the 76ers.

Oh, they’ve heard what it was like here in the 90s against the Knicks Michael Jordan and against Reggie Miller and his pacers; Pat Riley vs. the Heat Once Riley skipped town after the Knicks-Pacers series in 1995. They heard Larry Johnson’s 4-point game against the Pacers as the Knicks were returning to the NBA Finals in 1999, especially after Tyree Max. He made his own 4-pointer against them in Game 5.

And anyone who follows the NBA, of any age, knows about the Sunday afternoon almost 29 years ago to be exact — May 7, 1995 — when Reggie scored eight points in 8.9 seconds late in Game 1. That was the day Reggie looked back. Spike Lee (now friends if you’re keeping score at home) and Chock were signed and immediately bought prime real estate on the front and back pages of our tabloids.

After Maxie made a 4-pointer and then a 3-pointer in overtime in Game 5, I called Spike the next morning to see if he might be suffering from PTSD.

Spike laughed because he didn’t attend the game, he was in the Bronx shooting the second movie with Denzel Washington, his fifth.

“They can’t blame me for that!” Spike said. “I wasn’t sitting in my seat this time, I was just downtown listening to the radio.”

There was a pause, and then he said quietly, “Twenty-nine years since Reggie did this to us, and it’s still too early.”

Those were the days. And nights, here and in India. It was Reggie vs. Spike and Reggie vs. Nyx, and the back page of that paper read, “Nyx vs. Hicks.” It was Reggie’s 8 and Larry Johnson’s 4. It was Patrick who missed the finger roll that would have tied Game 7 in ’95, and his old teammate, Mark Jackson, said in the Pacers locker room after the game, “Patrick could never do it. Twisting a finger to save his life.’

It’s all been legend, both good and bad, and you better believe that legend informs the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Knicks and Pacers that begins Monday night at the Garden. It’s basketball time in New York, and it’s time to make things right for those of us in the ’90s — and I was lucky enough to literally have a front row seat to it all — say this:

“You really should have been there.”

Miller wasn’t just one of the great shooters in NBA history, he was a dream leader for his team in every way. He wasn’t afraid of Nix, he wasn’t afraid of the Garden, he really wasn’t afraid of the moment.

And it was always a fair fight. The Knicks acquired him in ’93, in a series in which John Starks famously nodded to the Pacers star. Then came the ’94 Eastern Conference Finals as the Knicks attempted to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 70’s. This was the series when Reggie really got involved with Spike, en route to scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter of Game 5. The next day, the front page of the Daily News read:

“Thank you so much, Spike.”

“Can I let you in on a secret?” Reggie once said to me as we were walking down Madison Ave, “I liked it all.”

Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller

But then late in Game 7, with the season down for both teams, Ewing let down a putback dunk that put the Knicks back in the Finals. He was, in many ways, as big as he’s ever been in the biggest game he’s ever played in the pros: 24 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists, five blocks.

When it was over, there was one of the last images of his basketball career, Ewing standing on the scorer’s table with his hands in the air in triumph.

Yes, those were the days. and nights. And you better believe the Indiana Pacers were right in the middle of it. Those Knicks had more fights with Reggie than Michael Jordan.

The two teams played again in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in ’98. The Pacers beat the Knicks when one of the biggest moments was Reggie’s 3-pointer — of course — late in Game 4 at the Garden that forced overtime, which the Pacers won en route to victory. A series of five.

The following year, after the No. 8 seed Knicks swept the No. 1 Heat in the first round, it was the Pacers again. This time, Reggie didn’t make the shots that saved his team or made the Knicks. In Game 6, he actually had one of the worst big games of his entire playoff career, shooting 3-for-18 (much like Max Philly Thursday night), and it was the Knicks’ turn to end their season. .

It just always seemed like it was Knicks vs. Pacers in the ’90s, and it was still Knicks vs. Pacers in the spring of 2000. Patrick’s knees were then shot. The entire Knicks team limped into the Eastern Conference Finals. Still, the Knicks had enough to play six tough games against the Pacers, with Reggie finally finishing them off with 34 points in Game 6, which turned out to be Ewing’s final game as a Knick at Madison Square Garden.

And guess what? Even with a new generation of Knicks and Pacers players in the 2013 playoffs, when we were sure the 54-win Knicks were going to play LeBron James and the Heat in the league’s Final Four, this moment was close. The end of Game 6 in Indianapolis, when Carmelo Anthony drove the baseline and the Pacers’ Roy Hibbert made a dunk so emphatically, you could imagine the garden was shaking in the city again, and the Pacers once again took down the Knicks.

The bottom line on this whole story, now that the Knicks and Pacers are getting ready to go at it?

Knicks fans, young and old alike, crave games like the ones that start Monday night. They want nights like this. They want what the Knicks of the 90s had and what they gave us, even if they never won a title. You should be there.

This isn’t the judge we know, Volpe shouldn’t lead and talk a lot with EMBIID…

Since Aaron Judge returned to the Yankees in late July of last season, two months after he stubbed his toe and hit an outfield hit at Dodger Stadium, he has hit .226 in 314 at-bats, hitting 24 homers with 53 RBIs. OPS of .873 and .494 slugging percentage.

He can still hit balls, even with his slow start this season.

But he hasn’t looked the same as a hitter since injuring his toe.

Maybe all the changes are starting now.

The Red Sox starting pitching continues to be one of baseball’s great early season stories.

I know Buddy Hield had a big night off the bench for the Sixers in Game 6, but how does he end up taking that crazy 3 and not Maxey?

Somehow three young guys playing college ball in Philly – Brunson, Hart, DiVincenzo – turned into one of the greatest New York basketball stories of all time.

By the way, it would make pretty good New York baseball history if Luis Severino came back.

Anthony Volpe looked a lot tougher to me before the Yankees forced him into the leadoff spot.

But that may just be part of the Yankees sometimes acting almost desperate to turn the kid into the next Derek Jeter.

As if Volpe could make us forget all the kids from the farm system who never became stars at Yankee Stadium.

For Knicks fans, turning on Joel Embiid was the way they did it, especially after he grabbed Mitchell Robinson’s legs and pulled away.

And it’s also fair to talk about how you couldn’t find him in the fourth quarter of Game 6, not really.

But even on one good leg, Embiid dropped 50 in one game against the Knicks.

And he did have a triple-double in Game 5, even if Game 5 was the Tyree Max show.

What Embiid has mostly done, not even 100%, is remind everyone why he was one of the stars of the sport when he was healthy.

Jalen Brunson makes it look as easy as Clyde used to do.

Someone explain to all the celebrity row rowers in the garden that they are not part of the act.

Except for Shelton Spike Lee, of course.

He has authority.

If you haven’t read Anne Lamott’s new book Somehow, do yourself a favor and buy it today.

As always, she writes with beauty and clarity and provides the reader with food for the soul.

To paraphrase a great old line from my friend Liz Smith, don’t you wonder who gives Marjorie Taylor Green a living?

Friday afternoon I was trying to set up my new laptop and it got so confusing, I kid you not, I almost called Aaron Rodgers.

I love the NBA saying that at the end of Game 5, Max should have been called for a ride.

I understand.

Now they will start their journey.

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