Bulls and Knicks one rivalry that knows Christmas


Dec 24

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Bulls and Knicks, Christmas Day in Madison Square Garden. Yes, that’s a rivalry.

No, the Knicks and Celtics are not a rivalry, as the Knicks wanted to make it a week ago or so when they played Boston and Paul Pierce laughed about it. The Bulls and Knicks, yes, that’s a rivalry.

The nation’s No. 1 city, at least in population, and the city that accepts being called the Second City. It’s not second to Philadelphia.

The Bulls and Knicks share a rich basketball history. In fact, in the Bulls inaugural season, 1966-67, they played on Christmas Day in New York, then the old Garden on Eighth Avenue, a classic game with the likes of Erwin Mueller and McCoy McLemore against Howard Komives and Cazzie Russell. The expansion Bulls won only three fewer games that season than the Knicks, coming off their seventh straight season out of the playoffs.

The Bulls then were using the Amphitheater, just slightly more spacious than Mrs. O’Leary’s barn, and with just a few more living things inside.

It wasn’t the NBA we know as one of those games with the Knicks that season was in Jerry’s Sloan’s home town on Evansville, Ind. C’mon in folks and see some NBA.

That was Johnny Kerr’s Bulls, who remain the only expansion team ever to make the playoffs. It’s almost two years since John died, and he’d love this Bulls team with its hustle and promise. Back then, it was a struggle, though no one but Kerr embraced it every day like the holiday season.

Attendance was usually just a few thousand and often the Amphitheater roof would leak onto the court, though only when it rained or snowed. Early in the season, the Bulls traded for Kerr’s fellow Chicagoan George Wilson, and Kerr said attendance would, at least, improve. “Between George’s family and mine, we’ll fill the joint,” Johnny cracked.

This will be the Bulls 15th Christmas Day game, the first since the end of the Michael Jordan era in 1997, though nothing compared with the Knicks who have played more than 40 times on Christmas Day. Back in the late 1940s in the league’s infancy, almost every team played on Christmas Day.

The Bulls played the Knicks on Christmas Day in 1992 and 1994 with the Bulls winning both in a pair of classics, Jordan scoring 42 in the 1992 game in an 89-77 Bulls win the game after Jordan scored 57 in a win over Washington.

In 1994, the league, too late to change the schedule after Jordan retired, still had the Bulls and Scottie Pippen, who didn’t disappoint with a 107-104 overtime win in the United Center’s first season. Pippen had 36 points and 16 rebounds to overcome Patrick Ewing’s 30 points.

Pippen, actually, had some of his most memorable moments against the Knicks, including his first game winner of his career. It came in his second game starting as his sophomore season was delayed by back surgery. Ewing blocked a Jordan winning attempt at the basket. The ball popped back to the free throw line and Pippen hit a jumper to win the game.

The teams shared many players, like the famous Charles Oakley-Bill Cartwright deal with more recently Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford and Chris Duhon going to New York.

Sure, everyone would like to have a rivalry with the Celtics or Lakers because they are the most successful franchises in league history. But their rivalry is with one another.

The Bulls had a memorable series of games with the Pistons in the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, but that never was truly an enduring series.

The Bulls became the more successful of the franchises because of Jordan, and though the Knicks were one of the league’s originals, the histories of the two franchises somewhat parallel with the Knicks bottom feeders into the late 1960s, then having their greatest era in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and then falling back into mediocrity until a terrific run in the 1990’s, basically short circuited only by Jordan.

The teams struggled again to begin this past decade, though the Bulls had somewhat more success.

Now coming out of free agency both without LeBron James but with improved teams, the Bulls and Knicks are again playoff type teams and perhaps eventually on a collision course deep into the playoffs if each can add maybe one more quality player.

It’s been, in many respects, a terrific rivalry through the years and here’s a look at the top 10 Bulls/Knicks highlights:

1. 1993 playoffs, Game 5. It’s known as the Charles Smith game for the Knick forward’s inability to finish a putback that should have given the Knicks a 3-2 series lead and perhaps ended the Bulls chances for a threepeat. That was the Knicks best team of that era, the East’s win leader with home court advantage in a rollicking series that had John Starks finishing a 2-0 series lead with a dunk over Jordan. The Bulls then went home and finished the Knicks in Game 6.

2. 1994 playoffs, Game 5. That was the Hue Hollins game, arguably the most egregious foul call in league history keeping the Bulls from a potential miracle in maybe going to the Finals or winning a title after Jordan retired. The Bulls had won 55 games that season and were on the verge of a 3-2 series lead and returning home. Hollins called a late foul after the shot on Pippen against Hubert Davis and the Bulls would go on to lose Game 7 in New York.

3. Game 7, 1992 playoffs. Pushed to the brink in a ferocious series with Jordan challenging Xavier McDaniel, who’d been bullying Pippen, and standing menacingly over a fallen Ewing and McDaniel earlier in the series on a drive and score that left Jordan bloodied, Jordan came out with a thundering first half and eventually scored 42 points as the Bulls buried the Knicks. Pippen had a triple double with 17, 11 and 11.

4. Game 2, 1981 playoffs. It was the first time the teams met in the playoffs as the Bulls were in the Western Conference until that season, 1980-81. It was a best of three format and the Knicks were heavily favored with the great backcourt of Michael Ray Richardson and Ray Williams and home court. But Reggie Theus, who started the All-Star game that season along with Artis Gilmore, outdid them in the overtime second game clincher with 37 points and 11 assists while Gilmore dominated the inside and Williams missed late free throws.

5. The Double Nickel. That became Jordan’s most points ever scored against the Knicks, 55, and a Garden record in his first comeback season, March 28, 1995, in just his fourth game back after retiring for a year and a half. Jordan scored 20 in the first quarter against old nemesis Starks and ended the game with a hanging layup score, then a pass to Bill Wennington for the final margin and forcing Starks into a turnover on the last Knicks possession.

6. Game 3, 1994 playoffs. Pippen had some brilliant moments against the Knicks, but that was his low point with his refusal to enter the game for the final play. But Toni Kukoc hit the game winner dramatically at the buzzer to avoid a 3-0 deficit to send the series back to New York and eventually to the seventh game. That also was the series in Game 4 in Chicago where Derek Harper and JoJo English got into a fight that spilled into the stands just in front of NBA commissioner David Stern.

7. Games 3 and 4 lost weekend, the 1989 playoffs. That was the series after Jordan’s famous “Shot” to beat the Cavs in Game 5. The Bulls moved on to play the 52-win Atlantic Division champions in New York. Jordan had a triple double in the Game 1 overtime win in New York and then back in Chicago for the Games 3 and 4 back to back, which the NBA did then in the playoffs, Jordan with a groin injury that Knicks coach Rick Pitino questioned (how’d he stay out of the Hall of Fame speech?), Jordan had 40 and 47-point games to give the Bulls a 3-1 lead and then closed he series with 40 points and 10 assists in Game 6.

8. 1986, Opening Day. Coming off his injury season and 63-point playoff game, the Bulls opened the 1986 season in New York with new coach Doug Collins. Collins was obviously nervous for his first game as a head coach at 35 and with the Knicks coming back to take a lead in the fourth, Jordan told Collins in a timeout, “Don’t worry, coach. We won’t let you lose your first game.” Jordan scored 21 points in the fourth quarter and had 50 points in the Bulls 108-103 victory to break Rick Barry’s Garden scoring record.

9. January 2006. Ben Gordon does it to the Knicks again with a buzzer beater to win in overtime after Jamal Crawford just seemed to have won it with 4.6 seconds left. That was the game former Bull Antonio Davis, traded for Curry, went into the stands because he thought his wife was being harassed. The previous season when Gordon became the first rookie to be the league’s Sixth Man he beat the Knicks at the buzzer on Martin Luther King Day in New York, and another time with 5.8 seconds left.

10. Christmas Day, 1966. Guy Rodgers and Jerry Sloan battle the Knicks to the end in a 133-132 defeat as the Bulls reputation as a tough out would just begin. Phil Jackson would later say about the Bulls they were the team the Knicks least liked playing because of Sloan and Norm Van Lier, and guard Walt Frazier would later complain to writer Bob Logan, “Sloan sticks out his foot and tries to trip you or jumps out to make contact when you’re driving, trying to draw an offensive foul.” How dare he! It was just the beginning as the Bulls head into this Christmas holding a 128-106 alltime edge in the series.

Game on!

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