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Mike Lupica: Surprising Knicks season will be a failure if they can’t win a playoff series

The Garden was once again a mecca this past week. That means the mecca of past basketball glory. Even in good times, and this current Knicks team has provided so many good times this season and so many big nights, the Garden, until further notice, is still just the capital of the good old days.

It all came rushing back again because of the death of Willis Reed at the age of 80, heart failure taking him and his own great heart. So, of course, it was Game 7 against the Lakers again this week, and it was the last Knicks title, 50 years ago, the 1972-73 Knicks team that was honored not long ago. Some of them were there for the celebration. Walt Frazier was there, because he has become the ambassador of everything with the Knicks and the Garden, mostly because he is still here, and so wonderfully vocal, and so very present.

Bill Bradley was there, and so was a fine and dear basketball gent named Earl Monroe, the Philly kid and the old Baltimore Bullet who by his grace and dazzling game, became one of us. Dick Barnett, God Bless him, was still there.

“It doesn’t take much,” Earl said to me on the phone the night he found out that Willis was gone, “for us all to be reminded what a time we had, and what a time it was.”

We know where the bar was set with those teams. We know that they weren’t just built to play as beautiful a game of basketball as any team in any era has ever played, even when a player like Willis who had once been such a giant wasn’t close to what he had been. They were built to win championships. Ultimately, they were built for the rafters at the Garden.

Now we have a Knicks team whose success this season can only be measured in one way:

They need to win a playoff series.

Just one.

If they don’t, it won’t mean they haven’t given their fans a time this season. They have. They have done the thing in sports that always matters so much to fans: They have surprised us. They have been better than we thought they were going to be. Despite some incredibly sketchy losses, including lately, they have shown the ability to go toe-to-toe with most of the best teams in the league. They have seen Jalen Brunson, son of an old Knick, become a game-changing star. They have seen Julius Randle play like the star he was a couple of years ago, when the Knicks came out of nowhere to finish 41-31 and get the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

But that team could not get a playoff series off Trae Young and the Hawks. So the Knicks still have won one playoff series since the 2000 season. One. The New York Knicks. The Knicks of Capt. Willis and Clyde and The Pearl and Dave DeBusschere, and Red Holzman waving that rolled-up program when he wanted to call a timeout like a baton. Then they were Pat Riley and Pat Ewing’s Knicks, and Jeff Van Gundy’s, and Oak’s. And they also gave us a time, in the 1990s, when they went to two NBA Finals, once going as far as Game 7 against the Rockets in the old Summit in Houston. They couldn’t get past Michael Jordan, but it sure was something watching them try.

I recently told Dave Checketts, who changed everything by hiring Riley and who ran the Knicks and the Garden in those days, that we didn’t know how good we had it.

And Checketts smiled and said, “Oh yes. We did.”

But then Checketts was gone and Van Gundy left not long after that. Before he did, the Knicks couldn’t get out of the first round against the Raptors and it was James L. Dolan’s Garden. And the only time the Knicks would win a single playoff series on Dolan’s watch was against the Boston Celtics ten years ago, and even that one left them bloodied. The Knicks didn’t sweep the Celtics at home when they got the chance and nearly blew Game 5 in Boston on a Friday night and then the Pacers stole Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semis on Sunday afternoon, and the Knicks never recovered.

Now here they are, and it looks as if they are going to finish No. 5 in the conference, though that could change, and they could move up or down. It looks as if it will be them against the Cavaliers if the current standings hold and, guess what?

The season, for all its bright moments and all the promise the Knicks have shown, is a failure if they can’t win a playoff series for the first time in a decade and the second time in this century. It just is, for a lot of reasons, starting here:

If the Knicks lose to Donovan Mitchell, they will be kicking themselves from here to next season, and beyond, for not making Mitchell a Knick when they had a clear shot at him.

The Knicks have to get a playoff series, or a truly unbelievable streak of futility will continue for what was once one of the proud franchises of the NBA. It is not just that they’ve only won one playoff series in this century; it’s that they’ve had just five winning seasons including this one. The Knicks. The Knicks of Willis and Clyde and Pearl and Bradley and them.

They need to finish strong, and see if there is still a way for them to get the homecourt advantage in the first round if they can. They have to see if Brunson and Randle can carry them through at least one round of the playoffs the way they have carried them to the record they have now. They have to find out, maybe in the biggest way yet, if RJ Barrett still has it in him to be an NBA star, even if the kid doesn’t turn 23 until June.

We know that the Knicks still matter. More than ever, in this emotional week that was all about Willis Reed, we know why they matter as much as they do. You know how much people still love to call the Garden the mecca. It’s part of the permanent romance and legend of the place. But until the Knicks do something and do it at the time of the year when DeBusschere used to talk about the money being thrown on the table, it is nothing more than a capital of the past in New York sports.

They don’t need a parade. They need to win a playoff series. Everybody else does. Why can’t they, and why not now?


Michigan State’s great coach Tom Izzo got bounced around the other night for talking about Kansas State’s luck down the stretch at the Garden.

Guess what?

That wasn’t an insult, or a dig at Kansas State.

It was simply Izzo telling the truth, about the bounce of the ball that decides who goes on at this time of year and who goes home.

You think luck doesn’t factor into the whole March Madness thing?

Think again.

You bank in a couple of three-pointers down the stretch and guess what?

You did get lucky.

I hope it’s Anthony Volpe.

Julius Randle needs to zip it.

If Rick Pitino can’t bring St. John’s back, they aren’t coming back.

The Nets have had two different teams this season, and still came into the weekend one game behind the Knicks in the loss column.

All those who didn’t appreciate the magic of Ohtani facing Trout to end the World Baseball Classic, not just facing his Angels teammate but striking him out, needs to go bowling.

That’s if bowling will have them.

It was the ending we wanted, and the two players we wanted to provide it, and it did the thing that sports does best:

Made a memory for everybody who watched.

That’s what sports is, in the end.

It’s the memory-making business.

And so this tournament came down to the best two-way player since Babe Ruth and the best all-around player of his time, in a one-run, winner-take-all game.

Great pitcher against great hitter.

Here it comes, see if you can hit it.

That wasn’t just the beauty of baseball.

It was the beauty of sports.

My pal Stanton’s right:  Raise a hand if you thought the WBC, even after what happened to Edwin Diaz and Jose Altuve, was going to be this good.

All Rory McIlroy did the other day in the Dell Match Play at Austin Country Club was carry his drive 349 yards on the 18th hole, and 375 yard in all, until it ended five feet from the cup.

I followed golf my whole life, and played it since I was nine.

Best single drive I’ve ever seen.

By the way?

I hope McIlroy finally wins the Masters this year.

At this point, you really wouldn’t believe them on Fox News if they told you water was wet.

I can’t lie to you:

The Aaron Rodgers prayer vigil is starting to wear me out a little.

Put me down for the new John Wick.

Hundred percent.

Just two episodes into Season 3 of “Ted Lasso” and it keeps getting better.

I think the Panthers are about to make a big mistake on Bryce Young because they think he’s too little.

It happens every year, and is about to happen again:

Spring training goes fast.

Really fast.

Didn’t we just have pitchers and catchers about 20 minutes ago?

I’m not nearly as interested in Josh Donaldson’s new swing as I thought I was going to be.

I hope that doesn’t sound impersonal.


Source: Berkshire mont

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