Knicks Deliver Lump of Coal

December 26, 1986

Before the game, the Celtics must have thought that a jolly old man and eight reindeer had a better chance of beating them than the New York Knicks. After a wild fourth quarter and two overtimes, though, it was the Knicks who defeated the Celtics , 113-104, before a crowd of 17,480 at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks have now won three in a row, while the Celtics lost their fourth straight on the road.

"I know half of America turned us off at the half," said Knick coach Hubie Brown of the nationally televised game, "but those who hung in there saw a staggering comeback." Make that stunning, startling and the stuff of Christmas miracles. The Knicks shot 14 for 40 in the first half and scored only 14 points in the opening quarter, fewer than they scored in the second overtime.

"We kept saying, 'But the Celtics aren't shooting that well, either,' " said Brown. "They've got only 46 points." It was that ugly, a 46-32 halftime score. Midway through the third quarter, the Celtics led by even more, 58-33, when the Knicks missed 10 straight field goals. "They hustled and got the offensive boards, then (Patrick) Ewing took it to us," said Celtics coach K.C. Jones.

First, though, a little bird took over the Garden floor. Guard Rory Sparrow (22 points, 8 assists) ignited a third-quarter rally by pushing the ball up the floor and finding the open man. His basket through the lane on a break pulled the Knicks to within 13 (60-47), and the drive continued. With Bernard King, the ghost of Christmas past, clapping wildly on the bench, the Knicks closed to 10 (63-53) at the end of the quarter.

While Ewing was on the bench with only eight points and five rebounds, the Knicks' second unit played an almost perfect pressing defense, while the Celtics' second unit didn't stretch the lead. Ewing returned at 9:28 of the fourth quarter and took control as if he were playing Seton Hall. His 16 points in the next eight minutes, plus assorted foolishness from the Celtics, put the score at 86-84, Boston.

A Dennis Johnson foul put Sparrow at the line and the game was tied, 86-86, with 34 seconds left. Pat Cummings (11 rebounds) and Johnson (8 points on 2- for-9 shooting) each had chances to win the game, but both shots missed. In the first overtime, New York took its first lead of the day on Sparrow's jumper from the top of the key. Then Ewing went down limping with a jammed right knee. The Knicks ran one play and put the rookie center back in. He finished with a career-high 32 points and 11 rebounds, and made it, as Brown said, "look easy."

"We proved we have some heart," said Ewing, "and I finally showed up." The Celtics led, 97-92, with 1:09 left, but Ewing's drive pulled it to 97-94 and the play was called for Trent Tucker, who'd taken 36 of the 60 three-point plays attempted by the Knicks. Ewing saved a bobbled inbound pass and swung it over to Tucker in the right corner. "Patrick saw the look in my eyes," said Tucker. "He knew I wanted it."

Tucker came off a screen and hit the shot with 11 seconds left. Danny Ainge (4 points on 1-for-7 shooting) shot and missed, and Kevin McHale (29 points) was blocked by Ernie Grunfeld as the buzzer sounded. "We were missing shots and turning it over," said Larry Bird, who missed four straight jumpers in the two overtimes and finished with 23 points on 8- for-27 shooting from the field. "It was a real lousy exhibition."

In the second overtime, New York jumped to a four-point lead as Gerald Wilkins (14 points from the two-guard position, where he belongs) slid a running one-hander through the net. By the time Jones put Rick Carlisle and Greg Kite in the game, Boston trailed by 11 (111-100). "I was really surprised they came back by so much," said Robert Parish, who turned in a sound 24-point performance. "Ewing played a hell of a game."

The Celtics shot 34 percent for the day (33 of 96) and scored only 104 points in 58 minutes, while the Knicks got points and performances from such unlikely sources as Ken Bannister (14 rebounds) and James Bailey (a key three-pointer). "This was a great game because we beat the Boston Celtics and because it was Christmas Day," said Bailey, a native of Boston. "That's right," added Grunfeld. "We should make playing like this our New Year's resolution."

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