Thursday, April 14, 2011

Top 10 Best New York Playoff Wins Over Boston

As suggested... though not quite promised:

This Sunday, the NBA Playoffs will begin, and the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics, the only 1946 charter franchises of that league still playing in their original cities, will begin a Playoff series.

What are the New York Tri-State Area's 10 best postseason wins over New England?

Note that, for this, I'm including North Jersey and Long Island on my side. If I thought there was a college basketball contest between St. John's, or Rutgers, or Seton Hall, and the University of Connecticut, or Providence College, or Holy Cross, that was big enough to make this list, I'd include them. If I thought the epic 2009 Rutgers-UConn football game was big enough, I'd have put that one in, too.

What does not count, however, is regular-season games, no matter how late. So the Yanks' last-weekend performance in 1949, their mid-September series at The Stadium in '77, the 13-inning dance of death on July 1, 2004, and the 2009 Division clincher don't count.

10. March 19-30, 1940: Stanley Cup Semifinals. The Rangers beat the Bruins in 6 games, before beating the Toronto Maple Leafs to win their 3rd Cup in just 13 years. A pretty good record. The Rangers certainly didn't suck then. Note that their big offensive hero at the time was Bryan Hextall, whose sons Bryan Jr. and Dennis, and Bryan Jr.'s son Ron, all played in the NHL.

9. April 4-10, 1973: Stanley Cup Quarterfinals. The Rangers avenged their defeat in the previous year's Finals, beating the Bruins in 5 games, before the results of the 1971 Playoffs were repeated, with the Rangers losing to the Chicago Blackhawks, who then lost the Finals to the Montreal Canadiens. Still, winning this series had to feel good, especially clinching on Boston Garden ice after the Bruins clinched at Madison Square Garden the year before.

8. October 13-18, 1999: American League Championship Series. A rather nasty matchup, featuring Sox fans making a mockery of their city's self-proclaimed title of "the Athens of America" by throwing garbage onto the field late in Game 4, after Sox fielding miscues and bullpen failings turned a 3-2 Yankee lead into 9-2. But I can't rank this one any higher, simply because it was such a mismatch. I loved it, but I can't rank it any higher than this.

7. May 7-14, 1995: NHL Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Because of the lockout that started the season, the Bruins ended up playing after the Celtics were eliminated from the Playoffs. As a result, this became the final event at the old Boston Garden, save for an exhibition game between the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens that featured an old-timers' last skate around the ice in September, shortly before the new arena, now known as the TD Garden, opened.

While Detroit Red Wing fans throw octopus onto the ice, a Bruin fan decided to put a New England touch on it and threw a lobster onto the ice. I guess he forgot that another great New England tradition is frugality.

But the Devils, who'd gotten revenge for 1988 by eliminating the Bruins in 1994, beat them again, taking the series in Game 5 and thus winning the last game that counted at the Boston Garden. Nice little feather in the cap of a team that had never won a Championship... but that soon came, after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, then the Philadelphia Flyers in the Conference Finals, and the Wings in the Finals, where Claude Lemieux saw all the octopi on the ice, and told a press conference, "These things are disgusting, by the way." Nothing he couldn't handle, though.

Or... was it? Just 2 months earlier, I'd been to the Boston Garden for a Bruins-Devils game, and Claudie landed a cheap shot on Cam Neely. Being a rather popular Bruin who'd recently come back after a long layoff following a cheap-shot-induced injury, the Bruin fans were livid. Neely pummeled Claudie, he "turtled" to the ice, and Neely got ejected. Now the Bruin fans were insane with rage, and threw all kinds of things at anybody wearing Devils gear, including me. (Fortunately, the worst thing I got hit with was a cup full of beer.) The Bruins went on to pound the Devils, 7-2, putting the crowd in a better mood and possibly allowing me to escape the North End with my skull in one piece. But the Devils won when it mattered.

We also beat the Beantown Brats in the 2003 Playoffs. Despite both being really good in the Seventies and Eighties, the Islanders and Bruins have never had a Playoff series I thought worth putting in here. They've faced each other twice, 1980 and '82, the Isles winning both times. The Rangers haven't faced the Bruins since 1973, as stated above. But that was before anyone in New Jersey (except maybe Flyer fans in South Jersey) had reason to say that the Rangers sucked.

6. January 16, 2011: AFC Divisional Playoff. With the recent history of the Patriots' dominance -- and cheating -- including a 37-14 drubbing of the Jets in the 2007 Playoffs, hardly anyone gave the J-E-T-S-Jets-Jets-Jets a chance of winning this one, especially in Foxboro. No respect? So what. The Jets played as if there was no pressure on them, as if all the pressure was on the Pats, and so they smacked the Pats in the face with that pressure. It was wild toward the end, but the Jets held on for a 28-21 victory.

This game might be higher on this list if the Jets had gone on to win the Super Bowl, instead of losing the AFC Championship Game to the Pittsburgh Steelers a week later. Still, it has to be the most satisfying Jet win since Super Bowl III, 43 years earlier.

5. April 15-29, 1973 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Mark the date: April 29, 1973. It was the first time the Boston Celtics ever lost a Playoff Game 7 at the Boston Garden, and the Knicks were the first to do it. And it wasn't even close: 94-78.

Here's the talent that was on the floor for that game: For the Knicks, coached by Red Holzman: Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere, Earl (the Pearl) Monroe and Jerry Lucas... 6 future Hall-of-Famers; for the Celtics, coached by Celtic legend Tommy Heinsohn: John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Tom (Satch) Sanders, Jo Jo White, Paul Silas, Don Chaney and a young Paul Westphal... 3 Hall-of-Famers and 4 others who fall just a little short.

The Celtics won 68 games, tied for 2nd-most in a single season at that point in NBA history, but in the end, they didn't choke, they got beat by the most talented basketball team in New York Tri-State Area history. That includes the 1950s Knicks of Dick McGuire and Sweetwater Clifton, the 1990s Knicks of Patrick Ewing, the 1970s ABA Champion Nets of Julius Erving, and the 2000s Nets of Jason Kidd.

The Celtics were, however, a team on the way up, after their interregnum following the retirement of Bill Russell, and would win 2 of the next 3 titles before going into another down period before Red Auerbach rebuilt around Larry Bird.

Fast fact with which you can amaze your friends: In 1973, both the Knicks and the Rangers eliminated Boston from the Playoffs, and did so at the Boston Garden. Guess the Gahden mystique was off to Florida on spring break. Anyway, that is, so far, the only year that both the Celtics and the Bruins have been eliminated by a New York Tri-State Area team in the same year.

4. October 2, 1978: American League Eastern Division Playoff. Major League Baseball officially treats this as a regular-season game, but as far as I'm concerned, a playoff is a Playoff. You know the details, including the biggest: Bucky Blessed Dent.

Why am I not ranking this one higher? Because, as epic as it was, the Yanks-Sox history, while already potent, wasn't yet what it would become. This game helped to make the myths: The Yankees as never truly being out of it, the Red Sox as never truly having it won. This this moment is the fulcrum point of the rivalry, when it began to catch the attention of to people outside the combined 33 million people living in the New York Tri-State Area and New England.

3. October 18-27, 1986: World Series. This was one time when, in spite of the Yankees finishing 2nd to them in the American League Eastern Division, I rooted for the Red Sox. That's how much I hate the fucking Mets: It made me root for The Scum.

I don't think I need to tell you how the Red Sox repaid me for this generous gesture. Suffice it to say that manager John McNamara screwed the pooch, and the Sox blew a 2-run, 2-out, 2-strike lead in Game 6 to let the game get tied... before the name Bill Buckner even needed to be mentioned by Vin Scully, serving as NBC's lead broadcaster for the Series.

As the Voice of the Dodgers since 1950 said, "If one picture is worth a thousand words, you have seen about a million words, but more than that, you have seen an absolutely bizarre finish to Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. The Mets are not only alive, they are well, and they will play the Red Sox in Game 7 tomorrow!" The Sox blew a lead in that one, too.

The Mets' 1986 World Championship was considered inevitable almost from the moment they were eliminated from the National League East race in October 1985. For a few brief shining moments, at the Astrodome, at Fenway, and finally that breezy October night in Flushing Meadow, it seemed not so inevitable. But the Sox couldn't close the deal. For that, alone, the bums deserved to be cursed.

But there are plenty of Yankee Fans, who normally hate the Mets (if hate can ever be considered "normal"), who still treasure this Red Sox defeat as if it was their own victory. It was a moment that seemed to unite New Yorkers. And it was truly epic, even if you hate the Mets as much as I do.

2. October 11-16, 2003 ALCS. What, this isn't Number 1? No, because what is Number 1 came after 2004. What can I say about this one that hasn't been said? As far as I know, nothing. Though it is odd that, with the filthy display by the Sox in Game 3, it's amazing that, of all people, it was Roger Clemens who kept his cool, and struck out that lying, cheating bastard Manny Ramirez after the dust had settled.

And Game 7 might be my favorite Yankee game of all time. Have you ever heard a million car horns honking at once? I have, in Times Square, at 12:17 AM on October 17, 2003. Aaron Blessed Boone. Too bad Jeff Fucking Weaver, that steroid-using Ivan Rodriguez, and Super Punk Josh Beckett (then a Marlin, not yet Red Scum) had to ruin an otherwise wonderful season.

1. February 3, 2008: Super Bowl XLII. Think of where the New York/New England rivalry was at this point. The Red Sox had just won the World Series again, and the Mitchell Report had just been released, implicating a lot of Yankees but no significant Red Sox. The Patriots were lording it over the Jets, and all of the NFL, despite having been caught in "Spygate" and being completely unrepentant about it. And they'd already beaten the Giants in the regular-season finale. And now, they were ready to finish off the first 19-0 season in NFL history.

Well, as ESPN college football maven Lee Corso would say, "Not so fast, my friend!" The Giants wrote the playbook for the Jets' win over the Pats 3 years later: Get in Tom Brady's smug face and make him hurried, and you'll make him mortal. Shut down the Pats' receivers, and you'll make them inefficient. Give your quarterback time to throw, the time you won't give to Brady, and you'll score. Eli Manning's late drive, including the use-your-head catch by David Tyree and the touchdown by Plaxico Burress (who soon stopped using his head), beat the Pats, 17-14.

It wasn't the biggest upset in Super Bowl history, even by a New York team... but, damn, that was satisfying. And I'm not even a Giants fan. Well, for 2 weeks, leading up to that game, everybody who hates New England's smug cheating teams was a Giants fan.

1 comment:

capt paul said...

At least an honorable mention to the 2002 NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Nets and Celtics--Yes, the Nets would wind up as sacrificial lambs as the Lakers swept them aside for a third straight NBA title BUT--The Nets prevailed after the biggest blown third quarter lead in NBA Playoff history, holding back a furious Celtic rally in the following game--the "classy" fans of Boston hurling the first stones at Jason Kidd for his discressions (that he was working on recovery), egged on by the usually rational Bob Ryan. It was the unthinkable, the Nets actually advancing to the NBA Finals for the very first time, and one of the few bright spots in the Nets NBA history. For the record the Nets beat the Celtics again in the following year in the second round, but the sweep that year wasn't as memorable. Incidentally, would like to see more Top Ten NY Playoff wins/losses vs other rival cities--LA and Philly come to mind first, and there's also good playoff history between NY and Baltimore and Chicago as well...