Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
GREENBURGH, N.Y. - This one is for you, Knicks fans, because goodness knows you have earned it.
Through five 50-plus-loss seasons, through all manner of off-court drama, through two quick playoff exits, the faithful never fled -- even when they had every right to -- during a decade in which average attendance did not fall below 18,800.
Now this, at last: Thanks to a loss in Game 4 that in retrospect might have been a blessing in disguise, the crowd at Madison Square Garden will get a chance for a proper celebration if the Knicks do the expected and oust the Celtics Wednesday night.
OK, so it's not the ultimate Knicks party, something the Garden has witnessed only once -- on May 8, 1970. (They won their '73 title in Los Angeles.) But when you have not won any playoff series since 2000, it will do nicely.
And remember, even in 2000 the Knicks won two series clinchers on the road; the last time they closed out a series at home was in another millennium, June 11, 1999, when they beat the Pacers to win the Eastern Conference title.
There are fans old enough to vote now who weren't old enough to read then.
"It's a very special moment for us as a team, for the city, as an organization," Carmelo Anthony said after practice Tuesday, "to do something special like that here on our home court."
Said coach Mike Woodson: "Hey, we're at home. I feel good about playing in front of our fans and these guys do, too. It's going to be a loud arena and I'm hoping we can get everything finished off so we can get ready for Round 2."
Even in basketball terms, the J.R. Smith-free loss in Boston Sunday does not look as unfortunate as it did then.
Now that the Hawks-Pacers series looks as if it could go seven games, a Knicks victory in Game 4 might have given them nine days off -- nice for relatively old bodies but not necessarily so nice for a team on this kind of roll.
The Knicks have not lost a game in regulation time in which they played their regulars since March 17, and they have not lost any game at home since March 7.
Getting Smith back after his one-game suspension for elbowing Jason Terry should add to the emotional charge in the building, where Smith likely will receive thunderous support -- and Terry will, um, not.
Smith was in fine form Tuesday, refusing to utter Terry's name or even admit to knowing of his existence.
All in good fun. As long as the Knicks do their part and actually win the game.
"It's a must," Smith said. We're playing at our building. We're planning on not losing any games at our building."
Said Anthony: "We want to end it. We came this far."
Farther than they have in a long time.
"We're in position to close them out here at home in front of our fans," Woodson said. "It should be a nice, loud gym in our favor and I'm expecting our guys to step up and play."
Given the loyalty of the paying customers -- those in the building Wednesday and the many who came before them over the years -- it's the least the Knicks can do.