“I know what it’s like to be a winner in the playoffs — I can finally say that,” the second-year Knick Landry Fields said after Miami’s Dwyane Wade misfired on what would have been a series-ending 3-pointer from the right corner and the Knicks broke their 11-year playoff victory drought, 89-87. “It feels good.”
It also seems almost inconceivable that a big-market franchise that spends as much money as the Knicks have from year to year could go so long without winning a measly postseason game. In the N.B.A. only the Charlotte Bobcats have failed to notch a playoff victory in that time and they have had the excuse of not existing before 2004 and more recently being run on a shoestring tied to Michael Jordan’s Nikes.
The Knicks had last outscored a playoff opponent — the Toronto Raptors — on April 29, 2001. They had lost 13 straight until , leading the Eastern Conference series 3-0, contributed 11 missed free throws and 41 percent shooting to a philanthropic cause known as the long-suffering Knicks fan.
Think about it: that last Knicks playoff victory came before 9/11, before the start of the war in Afghanistan. The drought easily exceeded America’s other marathon military action in Iraq. It consumed the better part of three presidential terms. It preceded Apple’s unveiling of the in October 2001 and extended beyond the invention of the .
The Los Angeles Lakers won four championships between Knicks playoff victories and the San Antonio Spurs claimed three. The New England Patriots’ three-title dynasty in the N.F.L. happened and Eli Manning arrived in New Jersey in 2004 and won two titles for the Giants. Alex Rodriguez began a three-year run with the Texas Rangers the same month of the Knicks’ previous playoff triumph and has since played what feels like a lifetime — this being his ninth season — with the Yankees.
And through all of the head-spinning events that spanned the globe, through so much dysfunction that enveloped the Knicks from regimes fronted by Scott Layden, then Isiah Thomas, then Donnie Walsh, Knicks fans kept showing up, filling the building. They have dealt with continuing change, embarrassing behavioral episodes, outrageous ticket price increases and other miseries foisted on them by the Family Dolan while waiting for something good to happen, for the streamers to come down.
Yes, of course, fans had championship aspirations more in mind. But considering the alternatives, they took what they could get early Sunday night. They watched finally finish his one-man show with a flourish and with 41 points that sent the Knicks off to Miami for Game 5 on Wednesday night, more crippled than ever but contemplating a miracle.
Easy to please, the fans forgave Amar’e Stoudemire’s attempted smackdown of a fire extinguisher casing after Game 2 in Miami and roared for his 20 points and 10 rebounds as at least partial redemption. They chanted “Baron Davis” as the team’s latest casualty — a Knick for all of four months and change — was carried off on a stretcher and out of the series with a dislocated kneecap.
Down to Mike Bibby, who delivered a clutch 3-pointer late in the game, at the point, the fans readied themselves for the next news cycle preoccupation, a possible return of Jeremy Lin, or Linsanity itself, to take more heat to South Beach.
“He seems to be moving well, real well,” Fields said of Lin’s recent workouts, already stoking the story. “I hope so, although it’s up to the doctors and him.”
Knicks fans will wait three days with bated breath. They will interpret Wade’s inability to exploit the defensive switch that left the vulnerable Stoudemire on him — “I lost control of the ball and had to take it out for 3,” Wade said — as a sign of something, anything, that might bring them back to the Garden on Friday night.
Maybe the Heat will start to hear footsteps or have a player go down; that seems to be in the air this playoff season. Wade, for one, had his ankles in ice after Sunday’s game.
Bottom line: don’t tell Knicks fans — that ever loyal band of wishful thinkers and Anthony worshipers — that no N.B.A. team has ever recovered from a 0-3 playoff deficit. Not after they finally left a playoff game without having to curse the fates while finding the rationalization to still care.
“It was a great win for us and our fans to get over the hump,” Stoudemire said. “To finally get over the hump now and win a game today is great.”
It was now or not until next year for the Knicks, several of whom won’t be back, and their fans, most of whom certainly will return just as they have season after deflating season. They all earned the win Sunday. But all things considered, the paying sufferers in the stands deserved it more.