Close your eyes, Knicks fans. This is not a list that you’re going to be particularly fond of. As a Knicks enthusiast, I repeatedly asked myself why I was writing this. It’s been 40 years since New York has won an NBA title and after a slow start this season, fans are close to their breaking point â€” myself included. Why did I feel the need to pour handfuls of salt into a wound that’s so sensitive and fresh? Because of MSG’s prominent place in NBA folklore.
For all of the ineptitude the Knicks have shown over the last decade, Madison Square Garden is still arguably the most endearing and influential arena in sports. Whether playing host to sporting events, concerts or shows, it’s an atmosphere that people want to experience, and it’s a pivotal cornerstone in New York culture. As a player, it’s one of the biggest stages to show off your game. Some of the greatest basketball performances in history have taken place in MSG, and I’m sure there will be more for years to come.
Plenty of Knicks have had career nights at the Garden: Patrick Ewing scoring 50 twice in 1990, Allan Houston‘s 50 in 2003, and Carmelo Anthony‘s 43-point outing on Easter weekend in an insane OT win last April. Hell, even Jamal Crawford dropped 52 in 2007. But, for better or worse, there’s something about an opponent having a great night in MSG that’s both pain-inducing and memorable to me.
Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the best performances at Madison Square Garden.
*** *** ***
December 27, 2006: Rip Hamilton â€“ 51 points: 19-37 FG, 12-12 FT, 2 rebounds, 2 assists (151-145 L)
Rip was a master in midrange efficiency and even in a triple-overtime loss, his 51 points was every bit impressive as the others. He made his only three-point attempt, hit all 12 of his free throw attempts and carried a Pistons team who couldn’t stop a scolding Stephon Marbury, who had 41 points in the win. What was impressive was Rip’s interior game, as he hit fallaway jumpers continuously in the paint over Knicks defenders. Hamilton became only the sixth player in Pistons history to hit the 50-point plateau.
March 5 2008: LeBron James â€“ 50 points: 16-30 FG, 11-16 FT, 7-13 3PT, 8 rebounds, 10 assists (119-105 W)
With Devin Brown and Delonte West as the starting backcourt, it was expected that LeBron James would have to shoulder the load as the overall offensive threat for Cleveland. And he did just that, falling two rebounds short of a triple double in a 119-105 win. Calling the game “a dream come true,” it was James’ career performance â€“ at the time â€“ that highlighted every part of his repertoire. He was a facilitator in the first half, scoring only 20 of his 50 points including a fallaway half-court buzzer beater to give Cleveland a four-point lead at halftime. But James poured in 15 third quarter points and hit 4 three-pointers in the final four minutes to ice the game for the Cavaliers. It was his third straight game with over 35 points against New York, and he became the only player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 to score 50 plus points, dish 10 plus assists and grab 8 plus rebounds in a single game.
December 15, 2010: Paul Pierce â€“ 32 points: 10-18 FG, 10-10 FT, 10 rebounds, 4 rebounds (118-116 W)
Paul Pierce loves to play the villain, especially when playing the Knicks. With 12 seconds left in this playoff game, Pierce was isolated against newly acquired Amar’e Stoudamire on the right side of the floor. After a brief hesitation, he stepped back and nailed a midrange fadeaway jumper with 0.4 seconds remaining to put the Celtics up by two. More insulting than the shot was Pierce’s celebration, as he ran around the court in circles indirectly taunting the Knicks crowd. And who can forget Nate Robinson almost breaking his neck jumping on Pierce’s back in jubilation. It was Boston’s 11th straight win and ended the Knicks’ eight-game winning streak. The Big Three of Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett combined for 78 points, but it was No. 34’s jumper that put the stake through New York’s heart that year.
For New York, Stoudamire scored 39 points, making it his ninth straight game over 30 points, an unbelievable statistic considering his production over the last two seasons. However, this was one of the last times we saw STAT in All-Star form as injuries eventually plagued him later in the season.
June 1, 1994: Reggie Miller â€“ 39 points: 14-26 FG, 6-11 3PT, 6 assists, 1 steal
If there’s one game that exemplifies who Reggie Miller was as a player, it was Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Resilient, lethal and clutch, Miller went for 39 points in 39 minutes against the Knicks in a game that’s known more for its off-court antics than the on-court production. Bickering back and forth all game, Miller and longtime Knicks fan Spike Lee maintained their animated courtside jawing well into the fourth quarter. Fed up with the heckling, Miller unleashed a shooting barrage for the ages, scoring 25 points in the final period while taunting Lee after every made bucket. Miller had nine more points than the entire Knicks team in the fourth as the Pacers cruised to victory. Lee was subsequently blamed by New York media in the days after for firing up the Pacers star, but the Knicks would eventually win the final two games and the series. It was one of many phenomenal games Miller would have at MSG, and both Miller and Lee are now friends.
March 28 1995: Michael Jordan â€“ 55 points: 21-37 FG, 10-11 FT, 4 rebounds, 2 assists (113-111 Win)
In only his fifth game back after hanging up his baseball cleats, Michael Jordan made his late season return to MSG in grand fashion by dropping 55 points on the rival Knicks. With John Starks matched up with him all night, Jordan didn’t have much resistance, bullying the tough guard on both the post and perimeter. Scottie Pippen turned in a near triple-double with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists but this was about Jordan, who had the assist on Bill Wennington‘s game-winning dunk with three seconds left. This was just a taste of what the league would see next season, as Jordan led the Bulls to a 72-10 record and an NBA title.
February 27, 2013: Stephen Curry â€“ 54 points: 18-28 FG, 11-13 3PT, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals (109-105 L)
An efficient shooting display for the ages, Curry came into Madison Square Garden and put on a show that firmly stamped his arrival as an NBA star. Offensively, he had it all working: midrange jumper, transition finishes, circus floaters â€“ it was an incredible spectacle to watch. But it was his 11 three-pointers, one make short of the NBA record, that sent the Knicks faithful into a nervous frenzy. Curry outscored his own teammates 54-51 on 16 less attempts, which ultimately led to their four-point loss. To this day, there isn’t an NBA star playing right now that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and pay attention when he’s hot like Curry. His magical night at MSG epitomizes everything that makes Curry special.
February 4, 2009: LeBron James â€“ 52 points: 17-33 FG, 16-19 FT, 9 rebounds, 11 assists (107-102 W)
Coming off of Kobe’s 61-point performance just a few days earlier, LeBron knew he was capable of something special in his return to the Garden. He said he watched the record-breaking game as a scouting report for the Knicks, picking apart their defensive deficiencies in hopes of using it to his advantage. What we got was something unexpected, even for James. He brutalized a putrid Knicks defense an improved jumper that deflected useless double-teams. LeBron got anywhere he wanted on the floor, and New York was powerless to stop him. The Cavaliers needed every LeBron assist, rebound and point to pull out the five-point victory.
May 7, 1995: Reggie Miller â€“ 31 points: 7-18 FG, 14-15 FT, 3-7 3PT (107-105 W, eight points in nine seconds)
Those Knicks/Pacers games in the 90s were something else, weren’t they? This particular game from 1995 is widely considered one of the most horrific collapses in the history of basketball. New York held a commanding 6-point lead over Indiana with 18 seconds left in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. However, Indiana had possession and Miller immediately drained a three-pointer to cut the lead to three. The Pacers double teamed point guard Greg Anthony on the inbounds, causing him to fall to the floor (or flop, depending on who you ask). Anthony Mason threw a pass that was immediately picked off by Miller, who brilliantly stepped back to the three-point line and nailed the game-tying bucket. After two missed free throws from John Starks, the Knicks inexplicably fouled Miller because â€“ well, that’s just what the Knicks do. Miller, who was already 11-12 from the line, drilled both as he finished with 31 points and handed the Knicks a loss that’s still incomprehensible to New York fans today.
June 27 1999: Tim Duncan â€“ 31 points: 12-22 FG, 9 rebounds (78-77 W, seals Spurs first NBA Title)
In a shortened NBA season, a Knicks team that was the No. 8 seed, made one of the most improbable title runs to the NBA Finals. However, they ran into a buzzsaw in All-Star power forward Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. In the series-clinching Game 5 win, Duncan finished with 31 points and nine rebounds using his vast array of low-post moves that he’d popularize over the next 14 years to drop buckets over multiple Knicks defenders. Ironically, the Spurs offense was often stagnant because they didn’t move the ball very much, which is reminiscent of the current Knicks plight. But the Spurs had The Big Fundamental as their bailout who flourished in isolation on the high-post against the Knicks’ frontcourt. It was a defiant statement that showed Duncan was already the NBA’s best player, even at age 23, and was just the beginning of a Hall of Fame career that included 3 more NBA titles.
February 2, 2009: Kobe Bryant â€“ 61 points: 19-31 FG, 20-20 FT, 3 assists (126-117 W)
Kobe came into the night averaging 35 points per game in the last five contests against New York and that average spiked exponentially after this virtuosic performance in 2009. Andrew Bynum was out with a knee injury â€“ an injury accidently caused by Bryant â€“ so Kobe had to shoulder the load offensively. He came out smoking, scoring 13 of the Lakers first 16 points. He had 40 points midway through the third quarter and with Gasol chipping in with 31 points in the game, the Knicks couldn’t double team Bryant on the perimeter. Knowing this, Kobe got more aggressive and most of his points late in the game came from the charity stripe where he was a perfect 20 for 20. To this day, it’s still the highest scoring performance at the new Madison Square Garden, known as “Garden IV”, and became the statline to match for all superstars who came to New York.
What do you think?
Follow Quenton on Twitter at @QGNarcisse.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.