Timberwolves and I finally end our playoff droughts
Barring any more surprises from Mother Nature, I will be going to Game 3 of the first round NBA playoff series between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets in Minneapolis.
Like the Wolves, I too will be breaking a long playoff drought, only mine was a little longer.
It has been roughly 23 years since I last attended an NBA playoff game, but the memories I have from that experience will last a lifetime. Let me tell you all about it.
The year was 1995 and I was in the eighth grade. My father accompanied me to Game One of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Madison Square Garden. This match-up featured the visiting Indiana Pacers and the defending conference champion New York Knicks.
At the time, these two teams were bitter playoff rivals who had met in the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons. The game’s marquee match-up featured two intense competitors at the shooting guard position; Indiana’s Reggie Miller and New York’s John Starks.
Miller was a supremely confident marksman who could seemingly shoot an endless stream of three pointers without missing the mark. Additionally, the basketball Hall of Famer derived great joy in antagonizing Knicks fans at every opportunity.
One Knicks supporter in particular, vociferous movie director Spike Lee, was usually a target for many of Miller’s taunts. Lee, who sat courtside for many of these playoff battles, had plenty to say as well.
Meanwhile, Starks was an undersized player who was short on talent, but endeared himself to New York sports fans by always playing with grit and determination.
However, the game itself was actually pretty dull. In fact, the contest featured the most personal fouls ever committed by two teams in playoff history up to that point. The excessive stoppages in play ruined the entire pace of the game.
With about 20 seconds to go, and the Knicks up by six points, many of the fans started heading to the exits. Not only was the crowd leaving the arena, but I remember the dejected look of Indiana’s bench. It was as if they were waving the proverbial white flag.
Reading the situation, my father suggested we should follow the masses and leave the game as well. After all, it seemed like an absolute certainty the Knicks would hang on for the victory. However, this being my first professional basketball game, I wanted to stay until the end. What an incredible decision that turned out to be.
Coming out of a timeout, Miller drained a three pointer from the wing which trimmed the Pacers deficit to three. Miller was then able to steal the ensuing inbound pass and connected on another three point shot from virtually the same spot as his first attempt. Within a matter of seconds, New York’s comfortable lead was history.
On the next New York possession, with the game tied, Indiana quickly fouled Starks intentionally, sending him to the free throw line. Judging by the reaction of Pacers head coach Larry Brown, his players had made a big mistake by putting a 77 percent career free throw shooter on the foul line.
As it turned out, Starks missed both free throws. With the seconds ticking down and the game hanging in the balance, Miller was fouled as he secured the rebound for the Pacers.
Miller stepped to the charity stripe as a stunned silence enveloped the arena. The deadeye shooter calmly converted both free throws with five or six seconds to go to give Indiana the lead.
Trailing by two points and out of timeouts, the Knicks were not able to locate a final shot as time expired. The shocked New York crowd, myself included, had just witnessed one of the most dramatic finishes in NBA playoff history.
Pulling off the improbable road victory by scoring eight points in less than 20 seconds, Miller celebrated Indiana’s win by taunting the Madison Square Garden audience. As he crossed both hands around his neck, Miller signified to the world the Knicks had choked in the closing seconds of the game.
While I was disappointed my hometown team had squandered away the lead and lost the contest, I decided to give Miller and the Pacers a standing ovation for their efforts. Even at 13 years old, I knew the odds of me ever seeing another finish like that would be remote at best.
It is highly unlikely this year’s playoff game between the Timberwolves and Rockets will provide the kind of late game drama I saw back in 1995. Heck, it is highly unlikely the Timberwolves will even make this a competitive series after dropping the first two games to the top-seeded Rockets.
Despite the long odds facing the Timberwolves, who squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season, I am still awfully excited to be going to the game. Regardless of the outcome, I can say I was there at the Target Center for the first T-Wolves home playoff game in 14 years.
While I look forward to adding another exciting chapter to my already lengthy sports memoir, I just hope this ridiculous weather will not stop me from making the trip to Minneapolis.