The media has always labeled any conflict between the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks as a ” renewal ” of the long-standing rivalry. My only previous encounter with a Celtics vs. Knicks ‘blockbuster’ postseason series was in 1990, 2013 and in 1984 when the Celtics were victorious at Boston Garden in game 7- thank god for VHS.
It’s not difficult to remember the elimination games lost on the parquet in 1990 and 2013. Both signaled the conclusion of eras for those generations of Celtics fans.
Larry Bird had returned to the normal hype train that followed legends making comebacks by the time the NBA playoffs got underway in spring, 1990. He’d missed all but six games of the previous season due to bone spurs that necessitated surgery, and there was much excitement about his return. He scored 24.3 PPG in his final season and had a career low FGP. The Celtics were also not the same team. Danny Ainge was dealt to Sacramento during his prime so the C’s could add some much-needed length to the 1989 roster devoid of Larry. Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish were one year older, while the Knicks were up-and-coming frontrunners.
After demolishing Patrick Ewing and company in games 1 and 2 at Boston Garden, the Celtics dropped the next 3 straight and the series.
Larry Legend would limp through 2 more injury plagued seasons but not before the 1990 offseason where Red Auerbach gave the franchise their biggest shakeup since Bird entered the league.
Though the years had passed, players and coaches had come and gone. By 2013, Danny Ainge was now the General Manager and patriarch Red Auerbach had passed on. Larry Legend had retired 2 decades earlier and a new ‘Big 3’ had returned Boston to Basketball Championship glory. Like some 23 years earlier, the new living legends roaming the parquet were well past their pride. As Bird was preparing to pass the torch to Reggie Lewis in 1990, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were handing over the reigns of the franchise to Rajon Rondo but the all star PG was out of the series due to injury. The aged Pierce and Garnett gave a valiant effort but the Knick youth and speed were too much as the Celtics went fishing in the first round for first time in the New Big Three era. With out time wasted, Danny Ainge traded off KG, Pierce and Jason Terry for a treasure chest of draft picks that would become the franchise players of today.
But that can’t define the Celtics Knicks hype, could it?
Well… not so much and even in this early 90’s segment, the quintessential Celtics legend confirms that “the Knicks always resented the Celtics, there’s no question about it.”
You have to love how the old Celtics had confidence supreme and trash talking didn’t retire when they did.
So it had to be Tommy Heinsohn and Bill Russell dynasty Celts…. Right? Wrong.
Upon further investigation it’s apparent that Heinsohn was there, but coaching, not playing. The titans of the 1970’s, 2 title teams, had the hardest fought series’ against the Knicks. The Red Auerbach/Bob Cousy teams (pre Russell) met the Knicks five times from 1950-1955 with NY dominating the first three playoff series (3-0), Boston won the last 2 series for the last battles of the 1950s. The Auerbach/Heinsohn/Cousy/Russell teams never faced New York in the playoffs and it wasn’t until 1967, the year after Auerbach retired that the two teams would meet again. Boston beat the Knicks in their lone matchup of the decade but lost the ECF against the Philadelphia 76ers, the only time Wilt Chamberlain ever won a playoff series against Bill Russell.
OKAY… Boston and New York definitely roll easily off the tongue but in the NBA, it had the be a short period between the Russell and Bird era of the early/mid 1970s that these two heavy weights went head to head.
In the 1972–73 season, the Knicks acquired up Earl Monroe, who helped them go on a championship run. They beat Earl’s old team, the Baltimore Bullets in round one, and met the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston won Game 1 at home, but the Knicks won the next three (Game 4 in 2OT). John Havlichek’s injured shoulder had him a shell of himself and the Knicks capitalized. Boston fought back to tie the series at 3, but the Hondo injury was too much to overcome. Knicks eliminated them with wins in Games 4 and 5. NY went to the finals again but lost to the Lakers. In the 1972–73 season, the teams met in the Conference Finals for the 3rd year in a row in the 1973–74 season. Boston won the series 4–1 and would go on to win their 12th NBA title. The Knicks era of greatness ended with the retirements of Reed and Frazier, and they went back to their old, familiar struggles.
So, I guess I’ll give you my final thought, with all things considered: If current day fans consider among the Celtics legacy rivals (Lakers/Sixers) to be the Miami Heat or Atlanta Hawks, then yes… the Knicks and Celtics annual playoff showdown from 1971-1975 must be placed in the Celtics/NBA75 record books.
Well, at least that’s how one boomer sees it…