The similarities between the teams are more of a statistical nature than of a personnel one. But like the ’99 Knicks, the 2012 Sixers entered the playoffs in a lockout-shortened season as the eighth seed and proceeded to upend the No. 1 seed in the first round.
In 1999, the Knicks outlasted the Miami Heat on ’s rim-roller in the closing second of Game 5. This postseason, the Sixers outlasted the top-seeded, injury-ravaged Bulls, closing them out in six games when Andre Iguodala, a terrible free-throw shooter (61.7 percent), coolly drained two at the end of Game 6.
Only five No. 8 seeds have beaten a No. 1 seed since the N.B.A. adopted its 16-team playoff format for the 1983-84 season. Two of those five have come in the two seasons that were shortened by labor strife. The 1998-99 season lasted 50 games. The 2011-12 season went 66 games.
The 1999 Knicks, however, are the only one of the five No. 8 seeds to win more than one series, getting all the way to the finals. The 1994 Denver Nuggets lost in the second round to the Utah Jazz. The 2007 Golden State Warriors lost in the second round to Utah. And the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies lost in the second round to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The ’99 Knicks finished 27-23 and were six games behind No. 1 Miami, so the divide was not that great. The 2012 Sixers finished 15 games behind the Eastern Conference’s top seed, the Chicago Bulls.
“Lockout seasons are strange,” the former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy recalled. “We never looked at ourselves as being a No. 8 seed or being a big underdog. I think if we had played an 82-game season that year, we would have won 48 to 50 games. It wasn’t a huge upset to us that we beat Miami. I don’t think Miami saw it that way, either.”
In the second round, the Knicks beat the No. 4 seed Atlanta Hawks, sweeping them in four games. This year, the Sixers will face the No. 4 Boston Celtics in Game 7 on Saturday night at TD Garden.
Asked if he thought a Philadelphia win would classify as an upset, Van Gundy, now an analyst for ESPN, said: “Yes, I think it would be. But at the same time, I don’t think the talent differential is so great between the teams that I wouldn’t be shocked if Philadelphia won. But I don’t expect that to happen.”
Should Philadelphia prevail, the Sixers would move on to face the No. 2-seeded Heat. In 1999, the Knicks advanced to face the No. 2-seeded Indiana Pacers in the conference finals and ousted them in six games, despite losing Patrick Ewing after the second game because of an injury. The Knicks took Game 3 of that series on Larry Johnson’s famous 4-point play with 5.7 seconds left.
The ’99 Knicks went on to play the No. 1 seed in the West for the league championship. That would be the same team that is the No. 1 seed in the West this year: the San Antonio Spurs.
The Knicks finally ran out of gas, losing in five games. Van Gundy said he looks at this year’s 76ers and does not see the same kind of talent that he had on his team.
But the 76ers have been good enough to extend favored Boston to the maximum.
The Sixers, who have an “ignorance is bliss” attitude going for them, know they are playing with house money and have proved to be a handful for the older, slower Celtics.
KNICKS KEEP WOODSON Mike Woodson’s interim tag as coach of the Knicks was removed Friday as the team said it had given him a multiyear contract extension, rewarding him for a terrific finish to what had been a turbulent season. Woodson led the Knicks to an 18-6 record after replacing Mike D’Antoni on March 14. The Knicks lost a first-round playoff series to the Miami Heat but snapped a league-record, 13-game postseason losing streak. (AP)