Patrick Ewing was the center, Mark Jackson was at the point, the Knicks City dancers were new and edgy and Pat Riley was young and the epitome of cool.
Twenty-seven years. That’s how long it’s been since the last time the Knicks failed to sell out their home opener at Madison Square Garden. Yet, a little more than two hours before tipoff of Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, team president Steve Mills said on ESPN Radio that there were about 1,000 tickets that had yet to be sold.
Of course, the struggle to fill their home arena may be the only thing that the Knicks team that beat the Hawks, 126-107, Wednesday night has in common with the Knicks team that had more than 4,000 empty seats on Nov. 5, 1991.
That team, with Riley in his first year as head coach, ended up taking the Bulls to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Fans, who had boycotted the first game because they were ticked off about ticket prices, were soon paying way over face value to get into Madison Square Garden as it became the hot ticket in the 1990s.
By contrast, the best we can hope for this Knicks team is that they make things interesting as they rebuild from the ground up. The good news is that Wednesday night they did exactly that.
Is it possible that this rebuilding thing isn’t going to be as tedious and painful as we thought?
It’s hard to get too excited about a win over the Hawks, the one team in the Eastern Conference that many predicted to be worse than the Knicks. Still, the Knicks’ young players were a lot of fun to watch, especially in the second quarter when they went on a 49-25 run.
That’s right. The Knicks scored 49 points in a single quarter. That’s more points than any Knicks team has scored in a second quarter, and more than Riley’s Knicks teams scored in most halves.
If David Fizdale were to dream an ideal debut at Madison Square Garden, he’d have a hard time topping the one his team actually produced. In the first half, the Knicks held the Hawks to 44-percent shooting while making 67.9 percent of their own shots. They led by as many as 28 points in the game and managed to show some resiliency after the Hawks made a run in the third quarter.
A variety of players stepped up. Tim Hardaway, one of the elder statesmen on the team at the age of 26, scored 25 of his team-high 31 points in the first half. Alonzo Trier, a player on a two-way contract, finished with 15 points punctuated by a violent dunk with 1.5 seconds left in the third quarter that brought half the fans to their feet.
Yes, the fans were definitely entertained, and that may be the litmus test for the Knicks this year as not every team they play is going to be this awful. Before the game, Fizdale was asked what would define success for his team after 82 games.
“That’s a tough question,” Fizdale said. “The whole time I’ve said the last 12 to 14 years success was determined on how far you went. I don’t think that’s a fair gauge for this team. And I don’t know if I have the gauge because I don’t want to put a cap on them.”
Fizdale is no Hall of Fame coach and he doesn’t have a team with guys named Ewing and Charles Oakley. What he does have in common with Riley is his players want to play hard for him.
That’s certainly a start.