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Knicks Put End to Era by Finishing Off Bulls : NBA playoffs: New York wins, 87-77, to advance to Eastern finals and halt Chicago's championship reign.

May 23, 1994|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Inevitability and their archrivals finally caught up to the Chicago Bulls, even if the Knicks needed a seventh game in Madison Square Garden to do it.

Eight months after Michael Jordan retired, the three-time defending NBA champions finally succumbed, losing, 87-77, to the Knicks in Sunday's Game 7 of their Eastern semifinal series and calling it a day and a dynasty.

"It has to be thought of as a beginning for us," said a relieved Knick Coach Pat Riley, "because for some reason or other, it happened to us in Los Angeles, with the Boston Celtics. We had to beat the world champions (in 1985 after eight failures).

"Our first year (as a Knick) against (the Bulls) in the playoffs, they had won a title and we couldn't beat them in seven games. We were matched up against them last season, and we could not beat them in six games and this year we had to play them again.

"So somewhere, some team had to put them away. It was fortunate for us because we really aspire to what they worked so hard to achieve."

It was truly fortunate for them that Sunday's deciding game was here, too, because the Bulls had won their last nine playoff meetings at Chicago Stadium.

"I do want to send a thank-you letter to the Boston Celtics," said Riley, mentioning his second-least-favorite team.

"I would never have done that in my life, but they beat Chicago on Friday night prior to the end of the season, which gave us the home-court advantage. I would have much rather played here today than Chicago Stadium."

This was supposed to be a lost season for the suddenly Jordan-less Bulls, but they won 55 games. After buckling on the last weekend of the regular season--needing to win two games at home for the East's best record, they lost to the Celtics and Knicks--they were expected to go quickly in the postseason.

Instead, they swept the Cleveland Cavaliers, then stuck around to torture the Knicks for two weeks.

When the Bulls tied the series, 2-2, John Starks acknowledged he had thought it would be over by then.

The best/worst was yet to come.

The Knicks pulled out Game 5 in New York on Hubert Davis' free throws, only after referee Hue Hollins broke with officiating tradition, called a foul on Scottie Pippen for tapping Davis on the wrist after the ball was away and put him on the line to win the game.

In Chicago, where Blackhawk fans have spent 30 years talking about a memorable loss, known as Red Storey Night in honor of an NHL referee, May 18, 1994 has been inscribed as Hue Hollins Night.

After that, the Bulls blew the Knicks away in Game 6 and scared them Sunday.

Less than three minutes into Game 7, Patrick Ewing got his second foul, and Riley benched him the rest of the first quarter. Riley said he had visions of the Bulls pulling away. They had done it often enough with Ewing in there, leading by 15, eight, 22, 19, nine and 19 points in the first six games, respectively.

The Knicks managed to take a 22-19 lead into the second quarter, whereupon Ewing returned and proceeded to go scoreless for 12 minutes. At halftime, he and Starks had one free throw between them. But the Knicks still led, 38-37.

Yes, the Bulls had caught Knick Disease. They couldn't shoot.

They made four shots longer than 15 feet the entire first half, only two after the first 90 seconds. If they're wondering when this prize tuna got off the hook, there it was.

"We didn't play the kind of game we needed (in) the first half, (the kind) I thought we needed to take into the second half," Bull Coach Phil Jackson said. "From that point, we couldn't absorb the run we knew they were going to make."

It came at the end of the third quarter, with Jackson resting Pippen. Trailing, 63-59, the Knicks went on a 21-7 run and the greatest championship run since the Celtics' 1959-1966 string was over.

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