The Knicks made its first playoff appearance in eight years this season, and Game 5 could end one of its most exciting games in recent history.
A win and the Knicks head back to Atlanta to try and even the series. A loss will force New York basketball fans to shift their attention to that other team over in Brooklyn. While the fate of the city will depend on the action on the court, what happens off the court could also determine the Knicks' destiny.
The off-the-court action began to develop during Games 1 and 2.
In many ways, it was reminiscent of the grit and grind Knicks team led by Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing and John Starks. It was Spike Lee. Lee has long been a fixture on the sidelines of Knicks games. In fact, fans have blamed Lee for at least one notable Knicks loss.
Specifically, Lee's antics against the Indiana Pacers in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals will forever be part of the Knicks' playoff run that year. With the series tied at two games apiece, the Knicks went into the fourth quarter of Game 5 up 12.
Then Spike happened.
Lee began to engage with Pacers guard Reggie Miller and the two exchanged some words. Miller claims Spike suggested his older sister, Cheryl Miller, was the better basketball player in the family. Reggie took issue.
Miller responded by throwing up a barrage of 3-pointers and finished the game with 39 points, 25 in the fourth quarter alone. The Pacers took a 3-2 series lead and stole home-court advantage.
Seemingly every New York tabloid blamed the loss on Spike. This was the good ol' "pre-Twitter era" where fan opinions were primarily limited to radio callers and newspaper editorials. The consensus among New Yorkers was that Lee was to blame and had the Knicks lost that series, there is no telling what the reaction would have been.
When all was said and done, the Knicks prevailed in the series, won the Eastern Conference and were a John Starks missed 3 from bringing basketball glory back to NYC.
The Knicks-Pacers rivalry was further solidified and over the next few seasons as each team appeared in the NBA Finals requiring them to defeat the other along the way.
Game 5 of the first round between the Hawks and Knicks will take place 17 years and a day from when Miller and Lee had their spout. They appear friendly now but that could be because Lee has found a new foe that he and the rest of New York seem to collectively take issue with.
Young has displayed a wide range of skills in his playoff debut, averaging over 27 points per game as well as 10 assists each contest. He also feeds off the crowd; both at home in Atlanta as well on the road inl MSG. Young is not shy and embraces each single "boo" and "jeer," especially those from Spike.
Young is well aware of the history and Lee's presence on the sidelines. Young and Miller share a similar thin-framed stature and both love to nail deep 3-pointers. Young is active even when he's on the bench as his jubilant youth is on full display each time the Hawks score a bucket or get a defensive stop.
Trae Young shushes the Garden and Spike pic.twitter.com/AM9LvglF7q- CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) May 24, 2021
The Knicks are one game away from watching this glorious season come to an end. Young would love to be the nail in the coffin. It takes a special kind of star to take on New York, especially as a visiting athlete.
New York and MSG are considered the "mecca of basketball" and legends from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant have established their legacies with spectacular performances in the World's "most famous arena." Young may not be joining those ranks yet, but the comparison to Miller is inevitable.
Miller and the Pacers fell to the Knicks the first two times they faced each other and it wasn't until the 1995 Playoffs when Reggie and company prevailed. Young may be able to hush the New York faithful in only his second season and first playoff appearance.
Game 5 could be the moment that raises Young's profile just as it did for Miller so many years earlier. On the other hand, Young could fall victim to the pressure that comes with playing on this stage, a stage that will surely have an eccentric Spike Lee ready to rock the house.
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