New York Knicks fans waited a long time for 2011. It had been seven years since New York last made the NBA playoffs, and though they were swept by the Boston Celtics in four games, excitement returned to Madison Square Garden this year.
It started with the signing of Amar'e Stoudemire in July of 2010. Stoudemire brought instant credibility and a whole lot of offense to a team desperately in need of both. The Knicks still didn't play defense and they were clearly not in the same league as the upper echelon teams, but on opening night - a 98-93 win over the Raptors - it was clear that this was the beginning of a new era of Knicks basketball. New York finished the season 42-40, but not before some memorable moments took place.
Here are the New York Knicks' top five moments of 2011:
No. 5: Spurs at Knicks, January 4, 2011 - The modern-day Knicks are not known for their defense, but on this particular night it was their opponent's defensive shortcomings that stood out. New York outscored San Antonio 128-115, prompting Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich to bench his starters late in the fourth quarter. New York scored 72 points in the first half against a Spurs team that entered the game with a league-best 29-4 record. For the Knicks, Wilson Chandler scored a season-high 31 points and Stoudemire and Raymond Felton added 28 points apiece. Like old times, the Garden was rocking.
No. 4: Knicks at Heat, February 27, 2011 - Who says this doesn't play any defense? It was a defensive play - maybe the most memorable play of the season for New York - that propelled the Knicks to a 91-86 victory over the Miami Heat. With seven seconds remaining, Stoudemire blocked LeBron James' layup attempt to protect a one-point lead. Carmelo Anthony scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds in his third game in a Knick uniform. New York fell behind by 15 in the first half and ended the game on a 13-2 run. But it was Stoudemire's heroics that had people talking.
No. 3: Heat at Knicks, January 27, 2011 - Nothing seems to make NBA fans (except for those who root for the Heat) happier than seeing LeBron James fail. They had plenty of opportunity to celebrate on this night at the Garden. James shot 7-for-24 from the floor and finished with 24 points, a below-average performance for King James. The Knicks hadn't beaten a LeBron James team since 2007. With TNT broadcasting from the Garden for the first time in five years, there was no better time to end that streak. The Knicks did just that with a 93-88 win after outscoring Miami 29-15 in the fourth quarter.
No. 2: Knicks Return to the Playoffs - Sweep or no sweep, what mattered was that the Knicks were back in the playoffs. Not since 2004 had they been there. For too many seasons, the Knicks were mediocre at best, with no real hope to get out from under the salary cap and begin the rebuilding process. Then came the summer of 2010 and the signing of Stoudemire, February 2011 with the trade for Carmelo Anthony, and then suddenly, the Knicks were in the playoffs where they went up against the Celtics. Boston was the better team and it showed. The Knicks lost the first two in Boston and the next two at home. They didn't go down easy, but injuries to Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups didn't help their chances against a team that even Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni admitted was the better squad. The franchise has now lost ten straight playoff games, but finally getting back to the playoffs seemed to matter most.
No 1: Carmelo Anthony Comes Home - The Knicks didn't land James seven months earlier, but the team thought they got the next best thing when the Brooklyn-born Anthony joined them in a trade that sent Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov, along with some cash and draft picks, to the Denver Nuggets. (The Knicks also picked up Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman and Anthony Carter in the deal.) Anthony received a 3-year, $65 million extension that made New York his home for the foreseeable future. On Wednesday, February 23, 2011, he scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his Knicks debut at the Garden, hitting big shots down the stretch of a 114-108 win over the Bucks. It was Melo Mania the rest of the way.
Charles Costello is a lifelong Knicks fan who was a beat reporter assigned to cover the team during the 1997-98 season.
SourcesSpurs at Knicks: AP via Yahoo! Sports Knicks at Heat: AP via Yahoo! Sports Heat at Knicks: AP via Yahoo! Sports Knicks Return to Playoffs: New York Daily News Anthony Comes Home: New York Daily News Video: YouTube