The 1994 version of the Celtics were winding down their relatively innocuous season. They weren’t quite bad enough to be in the mix to win the lottery, and not good enough to qualify for the NBA playoffs. They were in the worst possible place: NBA mediocrity. The New York Knicks were at the apex of their 90’s powers, primed to finally dethrone the three-time defending NBA Champion Chicago Bulls. It was of course, the first season in which the Bulls were playing without the shockingly retired Michael Jordan. But the Bulls were still great. Scottie Pippen was arguably the second best player in the league that year behind Hakeem Olajuwon. The Bulls were looking to secure home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference and had the cupcake Celtics on the schedule.
For some reason, the Celtics decided to play their best game of the year against the Bulls. Improbably, they stunned Chicago, winning a double-overtime thriller, 104-94 led by Dee Brown’s 40 points. The game was inconsequential for the Celtics, but it wound up having a huge impact on the Bulls’ quest for a 4-Peat. Maybe Boston didn’t want the Bulls to become the first team since the C’s of the 60’s to win four straight, who knows. But the Knicks and Bulls met in the second round of the 1994 playoffs, and New York defeated Chicago in game 7, at Madison Square Garden. After the game, Knicks head coach Pat Riley said he would send a thank you note to Boston:
“I was wrong,” Jackson said. “Home court does have something to do with the seventh game.”
And in that vein, one couldn’t possibly help thinking of the Boston Celtics. For it was on a seemingly ordinary Friday night, April 22, that the lottery-bound team stole a victory from the Bulls at the Stadium and took away any hopes they had for home-court advantage against the Knicks.
“I do want to send a thank-you letter to the Boston Celtics,” Knicks coach Pat Riley was able to joke. “I’d much rather have played here than at Chicago Stadium.”
So it’s 20 years later and there is somewhat of a similar scenario brewing here with the Celtics and Pat Riley. Riley is the overlord of the Heat, and Miami has now lost two games to the lottery bound Celtics this year. At the time of this post, Miami currently trails first place Indiana by three games and could very well finish 1-2 games out of first for home court advantage. It’s widely expected that the two teams meet again in the Eastern Conference Finals, but this time a Game 7 would be played at Indiana.
If the Pacers are to be the 1994 Knicks (that’s ironic on a whole other level) and end Miami’s run as two-time defending NBA Champions, well I doubt Pat Riley will be sending a thank you note to Boston this time. He’ll likely send something else, and it won’t be kind. Come on, Pat. Let’s raise a toast to the only time you’ve ever liked Boston. Here’s to the spring of 1994!