Despite being one of the most storied NBA franchises we have, the New York Knicks have only won two championships. The franchise has appeared in the playoffs 42 times since 1946, but capturing that elusive title has only come New York’s way twice.
The 1969-70 Knicks were the first New York team in franchise history to win it all. That squad was led by Hall of Famers Walt Frazier and Willis Reed and coached by Red Holzman.
The Knicks began the 1969-70 season with a staggering record of 19-1. They didn’t suffer their second loss of the season until November when the Detroit Pistons got the best of them.
New York had a top-10 offense and defense. They averaged 115.0 points per game (9th of 14) and gave up only 105.9 (1st of 14). To recall, during this time, there were only 14 teams in the NBA.
The Knicks finished the regular season with the best record in the league. They went 60-22 but did finish the campaign on a four-game losing streak.
New York began the 1970 playoffs going up against the Bullets, who were led by Earl Monroe and Gus Johnson. In a back-and-forth series, the Knicks were able to get by in seven games. Reed put up 21.3 points and Frazier averaged 19.0 per game.
The Eastern Division Finals saw the Knicks take on a 22-year-old by the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was on the Bucks at the time. Despite Abdul-Jabbar averaging 34.2 points in the series, the Knicks won in five games to clinch a spot in the NBA Finals.
To win the championship, the Knicks were going to need their two Hall of Famers to outplay the Lakers’ two Hall of Famers. The 1970 NBA Finals featured Frazier, Reed and the Knicks going up against Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers.
New York had home-court advantage in the series, but lost Game 2 after starting the Finals off with an impressive win in Game 1. The Knicks’ home-court advantage was gone and to stay alive in the series, they were going to have to win in Los Angeles.
Legends always perform when their backs are against the wall, and that’s exactly what Reed did in Game 3. He scored 38 points to lead the Knicks to a 111-108 victory, giving New York home-court advantage right back. Reed also grabbed 17 rebounds to secure a Finals double-double. Frazier also had one with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
As expected, the Lakers won Game 4 to even up the series at two games apiece. The Knicks couldn’t afford to lose Game 5 at home and played like the more desperate team. The game was close throughout, but New York outscored the Lakers 32-18 in the fourth quarter to take Game 5 and a 3-2 lead in the series. Frazier had yet another double-double, this time with 21 points and 12 assists.
However, Reed suffered a torn thigh muscle in Game 5 and sat out Game 6. The Lakers didn’t mess around in Game 6 and won convincingly, setting up a Game 7 back in New York for all the marbles.
No one knew if Reed was going to be able to play in Game 7. So when he ran onto the floor against the Lakers and hit two jump shots, the entire team and stadium was charged up and there was no way the Knicks were going to lose that night.
“I didn’t want to have to look at myself in the mirror 20 years later and say I wished I had tried to play,” Reed told Steve Aschburner of NBA.com about his Game 7 hobbled act.
In the 1970 Finals, Reed and Frazier captured their first titles apiece, with Reed winning Finals MVP. He averaged 23.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists before getting hurt.
Frazier, meanwhile, had 36 points and 19 assists in Game 7 to lead the Knicks to the championship sans Reed. It’s one of the greatest performances in NBA Finals history that no one talks about.
A team’s first championship is always the most special. The Knicks have been a walking disaster for years under owner James Dolan, so it was fun to take a look back at the best New York team ever.
Hopefully, new Knicks president of basketball operations Leon Rose can bring the franchise back to what it once was: a first-class organization that is attractive to the best players and coaches in the basketball population.