Knicks-Heat rivalry

The Knicks-Heat rivalry was a rivalry between two professional basketball teams, the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat, of the National Basketball Association.

Known as one of the fiercest rivalries in recent history, the Knicks-Heat rivalry was derived from their frequent, and frequently long, playoff series. Prior to their rivalry, there had never been an occasion in the NBA wherein two teams had met in postseason play four consecutive seasons and had seen each series extend to the maximum number of games in each of the four series. The Knicks and Heat thus made history by meeting in the playoffs for the maximum number of games every year from 1997 to 2000. The aggressive nature of these games--defensive struggles marked by numerous foul calls and intense physical play--can be traced to the highly defensive style of Pat Riley, former coach of both teams and the central figure of the rivalry.


On March 1, 1991 Dave Checketts was named New York Knicks team president, and he hired Pat Riley as head coach for the 1991-92 season. After years as bottom-dwellers and also-rans, Riley turned the Knicks into legitimate title contenders in a short time, culminating with an Eastern Conference Championship in 1994 before an eventual loss to the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals that year.

Unable to repeat a trip to the Finals in 1995, Riley stepped down as the head coach of the Knicks. At the time, many speculated either that Riley thought the Knicks were no longer a legitimate title threat and that he wanted to move on, or that Riley wanted more power in the Knicks organization. Riley answered that question on September 2, 1995, when he took over as Team President and Head Coach of the underachieving Miami Heat. The Heat and the Knicks were both in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. Riley's move caused some controversy, as the Knicks accused the Heat of tampering while Riley was still under contract, [ [ The Knicks' tamper tantrums are heating up - New York Knicks - NBA Report - Column | Sporting News, The | Find Articles at ] ] which was settled after the Heat sent their 1996 first round pick (#19 - Walter McCarty) and $1 million in cash to the Knicks on September 1, 1995.

1997 playoffs

In only his second season as Miami's head coach, Riley's Heat dethroned the New York Knicks as Atlantic Division champions. This was the setup for one of the most dramatic playoff series in NBA history, when these teams met in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Knicks raced out to a 3-1 lead in the best of seven series, needing only one victory in the final three games to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in five seasons. Patrick Ewing's emphatic dunk over Alonzo Mourning sealed a Knicks victory at the end of game 1. Jamal Mashburn's three-pointer for the Heat took game two out of reach, tying the series. In game 3 back at Madison Square Garden, the key play was Patrick Ewing coming out to the three point line to block a potential game-tying three from Tim Hardaway and then securing the loose ball. In game 4, the Knicks won by 11, dominating the game the entire way, and giving them that comfortable 3-1 series lead.

However, the Heat won in Game 5, which was highlighted by a brawl that broke out between the two teams when Heat power forward P.J. Brown objected to Knick point guard Charlie Ward's attempt to gain position for a rebound. Brown flipped Ward over his head, body-slamming him, and a melee ensued. There has been speculation by the Knicks and their fans that Riley informed Brown to start a brawl in the hopes that Knicks players would get suspended, since the series was basically unwinnable against a full strength Knicks team that many considered prime to dethrone Chicago. During the fight, several Knicks players, including perennial All-Star and team leader Patrick Ewing, Allan Houston, and key members Larry Johnson and John Starks left the bench area; the league punished them for this by handing out one-game suspensions, spread over the final two games of the series. Subsequently, Ewing, Houston and Ward missed Game 6 while Johnson and Starks were absent for Game 7. Shorthanded by the suspensions, the Knicks lost the last two games and the series. The Heat advanced to face the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they would lose in five games.

1998 playoffs

Bolstered by the previous year's results, the Heat once again captured the Atlantic Division crown. The Knicks, meanwhile, regressed somewhat and could only attain the seventh seed (of eight teams) in the Eastern Conference. This led to a rematch in the first round of the playoffs, which at the time was a best of five series. The teams split the first four games. Patrick Ewing did not play in this series as he had injured his wrist during the regular season. Game Four will always be remembered for a fight that broke out between Heat center and team leader Alonzo Mourning and Knicks forward Larry Johnson (ironically, both were former teammates on the Charlotte Hornets team). Although neither player landed a punch (despite their best intentions) the fight is mostly remembered for Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy hanging on to the leg of Mourning while trying to break up the fight. The NBA suspended both Mourning and Johnson for the fight.

Without Alonzo Mourning, the Knicks jumped out to a 20-point halftime lead in game five. However, Miami began to chip away at it in the third and fourth quarters. In the fourth, Tim Hardaway connected on a number of long and improbable three point attempts until with over 4 minutes left, the Heat only trailed by 2 points, 81 to 79. With the momentum and emotion of the crowd behind them, the Heat seemed poised to overtake the Knicks. However, the Knicks retook the Heat's momentum on a sequence consisting of a Charlie Ward steal and layup, an Allan Houston dunk, and then a Charles Oakley fast-break layup, on which Oakley was fouled from behind and fell into the stands (this foul was ruled a flagrant foul, meaning the Knicks got free throws and retained possession of the ball). After the free throws, and on the extra possession, John Starks hit a three-pointer that extended the Knicks' lead back to 13 points. The Heat would not challenge the rest of the way, as the Knicks claimed the series with a 98-81 victory. The Knicks would go on to lose in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to the Indiana Pacers in five games.

1999 playoffs

The lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season saw the Heat try and move past the previous year's playoff disappointment. As Michael Jordan's retirement saw the Chicago Bulls quickly fade as an NBA title threat, the Heat beat out the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic to reach the top of the Eastern Conference. The Knicks could only get through the 50-game season with a 27-23 record, just good enough for the eighth seed in the playoffs. This put the odds squarely in the Heat's favor, as only once in NBA history had a #8 seed defeated a #1 seed in the first round. However, the Knicks attempted to defy expectations and took two of the first three games, including a 20-point blowout in game one, with a chance to win the series at home in game four. The Knicks held an eight-point lead in that game until the Heat came charging back to win 87-72 and set up a decisive game 5. Game 5 was a defensive struggle all the way, but Miami held a one-point lead with only a few seconds remaining. Knick shooting guard Allan Houston proved to be the hero of the deciding game, as he hit a running one-hander that indecisively bounced on the rim before falling with 0.8 seconds in play to give New York a 78-77 victory.

The win propelled an improbable run for the Knicks in the playoffs. They swept the Atlanta Hawks in the semifinals and defeated the Indiana Pacers in six games to clinch their second Eastern Conference Championship in five years and advance to the NBA Finals, where they lost to the San Antonio Spurs. In doing this, the Knicks became the first eighth-seeded team in NBA history to reach the NBA Finals.

2000 playoffs

While the Heat would win the Atlantic Division for the fourth year in a row, the Knicks would be right on their tail, finishing only two games back and capturing the third seed in the conference. The two teams met again in the 2000 playoffs, in what would be the most evenly matched of all four series. The teams split the first four games, of which game three in New York was most notable. Patrick Ewing converted a jump shot with just over 2 seconds remaining to force overtime. Ewing also made one of two free throws in the final seconds of overtime to give the Knicks a one-point lead. On Miami's final possession, rookie Anthony Carter drove from the baseline and launched a difficult and perhaps illegal shot from behind the backboard. The shot dropped onto the front rim and fell in with 2.1 seconds remaining. After a referee's conference, they ruled the basket counted, despite protests from the Knicks. The shot turned out to be the winning points. The Knicks would tie the series in game 4 on Charlie Ward's surprising 21 points and a raucous Garden crowd chanting "Char-lie, Char-lie."

Back in Miami for game five, the Heat came from behind with a sequence of three-pointers in the final two minutes (two from Dan Majerle and the final one from Bruce Bowen), and won the game 87-81. Miami had a chance to clinch the series in game six at Madison Square Garden, but blew a 45-30 halftime lead. This 15-point lead was cut to 6 in the first 3 minutes of the 3rd quarter. Patrick Ewing made a difficult follow-dunk off a missed jumpshot to cut the lead to 2 with 2 minutes left in the game. Allan Houston hit two free throws with 22 seconds remaining to give the Knicks a 72-70 lead. Anthony Carter missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have won the series. In a press conference at the game, Pat Riley remarked, "This is absolute madness."

In yet another winner-take-all game, the Heat took an 11-point lead in the first half, before the Knicks rallied to make the game close in the final minutes. Heat point guard Tim Hardaway staked Miami to an 82-81 lead when he drained a three-pointer with 1:32 left. The Knicks responded when Patrick Ewing beat Alonzo Mourning on the baseline for a dunk with just over a minute remaining for an 83-82 lead. The Heat had a chance in the final seconds to reclaim the lead, but Heat forward Clarence Weatherspoon missed a jump shot with seven seconds left, giving the Knicks another playoff series victory over Miami. The Knicks advanced to an Eastern Conference finals rematch with the Pacers, but this time the Pacers would win the series in six games to advance to the NBA Finals.

Memorable regular season contests

In an April 12th game played in Miami in 1997, the Knicks led by 3 points in the final minute when Miami guard Sasha Danilovic made appeared to be a three pointer to tie the game, however referees ruled that Danilovic's foot was on the three point line, and ruled the basket only a two pointer. Replays showed the call was in fact correct, but also very close. The Knicks went on to win the game by 1 point. Although they were putting pressure on the Heat with the victory, Miami was able to hang on and win the Atlantic Division by 4 games.

In an Easter Sunday game played in Miami on April 12, 1998 the Knicks trailed by one point with 4.2 seconds remaining and the ball at half-court. Terry Cummings received an inbounds pass and shot a short leaner on the baseline that hit the rim and bounced away. Several tips ensued from players on both teams positioned by the basket. The sequence ended when Allan Houston tipped the ball in at the buzzer for an apparent game-winner, however the referees ruled it to be after the buzzer and awarded the game to Miami by the score of 82-81. Replays later ruled that Houston last touched the ball with 0.2 remaining and the basket should have counted. Jeff Van Gundy and the Knicks protested the game's outcome but were denied by the league office.

In an April 25th game played in Miami in 1999, the Heat took a 20 point lead on the Knicks in the first half and maintained it well into the 2nd half. The game entered the 4th quarter with Miami still up by 16, but the Knicks came back, outscoring the heat 40-25 in the final quarter to win 82-81 (ironically the same score as the game above) and help jump start the slumping Knicks, who were only 22-21 at this time, to a final surge which would lead to them capturing the #8 seed in the playoffs and eventually defeat top-seeded Miami in the first round that year.

In an April 9th game played in Miami in 2000, a hotly contested game was sent to overtime due to a sequence in which center Patrick Ewing grabbed three offensive rebounds off missed Knick three pointers before finally finding point guard Chris Childs who connected on a three point attempt with only seconds left, tying the game. Miami was unable to score, hence the overtime. In the extra session, Childs was on the spotlight again. With the Knicks leading by one point, Childs had been intentionally fouled by the Heat and sent to the free throw line. He made only one of two free throws, making the lead 2 points. The Heat now had 4.5 seconds remaining to inbound from half court and score. The ball went to point guard Tim Hardaway, who could not shake free of defender Chris Childs. Hardaway ended up forcing a three pointer from an awkward angle with Childs covering him tightly. Improbably the shot went in with no time left, giving Miami a bedlam-inducing 95-94 win. This game was seen as the game in which the Heat pulled away from the Knicks for the race for first place in the Atlantic Division.

After the Rivalry

In recent years, this rivalry has been greatly weakened, with the recent struggles of the Knicks franchise and the turnover of the Miami Heat to a new crop of players and transformation into title winners. However, in its prime this rivalry was very physical and marked by low-scoring, defensive-oriented affairs, with players on both teams giving their best efforts in every game.

However, some notable games between the Knicks and Heat have taken place in recent years.

On March 15, 2005, Heat guard Dwyane Wade scored a gamewinning shot at the buzzer against the Knicks in New York to beat them 98-96. [] []

On January 26, 2007, Knicks guard Jamal Crawford scored a career-high 52 points on 20-30 shooting, including 8 three-pointers, against the Miami Heat en route to a 116-96 victory for New York. [] Yet the Miami Heat had their worst season in 2007-2008 season.


In all four Knicks-Heat playoff series, Miami held home-court advantage. Also, the winner of each series was not decided until the waning moments of each final game, with both teams playing 24 out of a possible 24 playoff games against one another over the four-year span (in 1998 and 1999 the series were first-round contests which at the time were only best-of-five).

A side note to this fierce and bitter rivalry is that the two best players, Alonzo Mourning of the Heat and Patrick Ewing of the Knicks, are actually close friends off the court and managed to keep their friendship strong throughout this rivalry, often having dinner together after each game. Mourning has admitted that it was often difficult to remain friendly during this time in which he frequently lost to his friend and mentor, Ewing.

Much of the rivalry's passion can be attributed to the number of transplanted New Yorkers who live in South Florida and who nonetheless hold an allegiance to their hometown. This usually results in crowds with disproportionate numbers of fans cheering for the visitors (compared to the partisanship seen in most other home venues). This also applies to a certain extent to other New York/Miami rivalries, such as the ones between the NFL's Miami Dolphins and New York Jets, the NHL's Florida Panthers and New York Rangers and Major League Baseball's Florida Marlins and New York Mets.

Head to head

The results in brackets concern the play-off games.



ee also

*Rivalries of the NBA

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