The NBA tends to come full circle. I mean, did we ever think that after the Mavericks watched the Heat celebrate on their home floor that they would come back to South Beach a mere five years later and return the favor? Did we ever think that the great Phil Jackson could have even had a chance to win 12 titles, coaching two different teams in three different decades? But the NBA has been around a long time, and while we may not have anything on a Red Sox–Yankees level, there are several matchups that come back to rear their ugly head, again and again, kind of like a bad Freddy vs. Jason movie. In honor of this week’s Sox-Yanks series, here is one of our favorite rivalries, Knicks vs. Celtics, which has been renewed from decade to decade.
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This past April, the Knicks and Celtics renewed a rivalry that had been dormant for 20 years. When the Knickerbockers and Celts truly last met up, Paul Pierce was a 12-year-old kid in Los Angeles, players were still playing in short shorts, and Larry Bird was still a top-5 player.
During that series in the spring of 1990, the Knicks rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win a deciding Game 5 in the Boston Garden, the first time the Knicks had won there in six years. The Celtics would remain competitive as long as Bird was on the team, but that loss to the Knicks signaled a changing of the guard. Patrick Ewing (and his flat-top) finally made a name for himself in the playoffs, pouring in monster numbers of 29.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, and proved to be too much for Kevin McHale and Robert Parish to handle.
As the story goes, McHale and Parish wanted to double team Big Pat, but Boston coach Jimmy Rodgers wouldn’t allow it, saying they could win without giving Ewing special attention. The addition of Charles Oakley gave the Knicks some much needed physical toughness inside, but it was role players like Maurice Cheeks, Gerald Wilkins and Kenny Walker who got the job done in Game 3 and 5.