The Knicks’ past decade can be boiled down to three playoff trips—all of which occurred at the beginning of the 2010’s. What else happened?
“Memory, all alone in the moonlight, I can smile at the old days, I was beautiful then,” the wizened Grizabella sings in the movie musical Cats based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage production.
Like the 2019 film adaptation, the New York Knicks are also a total train wreck, critically panned and celebrated for what came before, not the current iteration. From 2010 to 2019, the Knicks are 319-484 (.391, with two more games to play), making the 2010’s an abject failure in any sense of being a competitive professional ball club. The team has reached the postseason only three times—all in the first three years of the decade.
Alas, there are good and bad memories of the ‘Bockers from this past decade. But overall, there are just “memories,” too—ones that fulfill what watching, rooting, or covering the Knicks meant for 10 years.
Here’s what a handful of The Knicks Wall’s staff writers thought of when mentioning the Knicks in the 2010’s.
Few people have ever mastered the art of the pull-up jimbo like Carmelo Anthony. On April 8, 2012, Anthony had one of the most iconic sequences in the history of Madison Square Garden. The Knicks got the ball down three with the clock running out in the fourth quarter. Who better to call it than the legendary Mike Breen: “Knicks down three, should the Bulls foul? No. Anthony…for three…BANG!”
With 11.2 seconds left to go in the game, Carmelo tied the game at 91 with a pull-up three.
Easter Sunday in 2012.
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) April 21, 2019
In overtime, the Bulls were silly enough to give ‘Melo another opportunity to operate on the right wing. Same song, second verse. This time, Anthony drilled the three right in the face of 6’9″ Luol Deng. I’ve seen it called coldblooded, lethal, a dagger, stone-cold; to me it will always be one thing: a statement. The best part of the game was how ‘Melo fed off the energy of the Garden. After he gave the Knicks the lead in overtime, he galloped up and down the court yelling “This is my house!” It was a statement that informed the NBA at large that ‘Melo was a Knick through and through. He finished as the only Knick with more than 15 points and communicated to everyone who saw that this team was his to lead.
This team would fall to the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, but it was able to carry its momentum into the following season where the Knicks posted their best record of the season.
It takes an impressive feat for a ‘Melo stan like myself to not choose a moment involving Anthony. But alas, Linsanity was that impactful.
The golden year the following season was the most enjoyable time to be a Knicks fan, but the joy truly started when Jeremy Lin checked in during the first quarter against the Nets on February 4, 2012. It was an unofficial kickoff to the Knicks’ (brief) return to relevance, and will forever be a part of the franchise history timeline.
Nothing tested the depths of Knick fan cynicism more than an unknown player from Harvard becoming a star overnight. It felt like a cheesy Like Mike knockoff just trying to explain it.
Jeremy Lin’s run began against the Nets, scoring a team-high 25 points to lead the Knicks to victory. Mike D’Antoni rode the hot hand the following night, inserting Lin into the starting lineup. The rest is history.
Each game he showed out there was a “no way he can keep this going, can he?” feeling. But Lin didn’t stop, and neither did the Knicks. With Lin leading the way the Knicks ripped off seven straight wins to turn around a lockout-shortened season.
If I had to pinpoint two of the most memorable games from that stretch the first was his career night against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Kobe didn’t know who he was prior to the game. Lin introduced himself with 38 points and seven assists to lead the Knicks to a 92-85 win.
The cherry on top? A nice chunk of those points came against Derek Fisher. After that game it felt like Lin leveled up, and the Knicks had finally been blessed with something great.
Linsanity’s peak would come two games later in Toronto. With the game tied at 87-87, Lin got the ball at the top of arc, dribbled down the waning seconds, pulled up for a Mike Breen “BANG” heard around the world.
It was the ultimate heat check moment, and one of the iconic shots of the decade, not just for the Knicks but for the NBA. Lin would remain the starter for most of the season before he got hurt to end the season. His emergence helped the Knicks make the playoffs, and served as an interlude to the 54-win team next season.
Although they certainly won’t be the most remembered moments of the decade, Trey Burke provided some moments that defined the Knicks of the 2010’s.
First, in 2014, Burke stuck a dagger in the Knicks heart when he was a member of the Utah Jazz. On a Friday Night Knicks early in the season, Carmelo had his way. He scored 46 points that game, shooting 16-of-26 from the field and 13-for-16 from the free throw line. The game was tight throughout.
‘Melo hit a triple with 2.3 seconds to go—his 15th, 16th, and 17th points of the fourth quarter—to tie the game. Burke then proceeded to hit a fadeaway jumper to win the game for Utah. It was the only time the Knicks lost with Carmelo scoring over 45 points.
Years later, after the Knicks had moved on from Anthony, Burke joined the Knicks after a strong showing in the G League. He helped lead the Knicks to multiple wins near the end of the year, including two in April. All these wins did was hurt the Knicks’ odds in the draft lottery, taking minutes from 19-year-old rookie Frank Ntilikina in the process.
To be fair, this is more reflective of Jeff Hornacek’s incompetence, opting to play Burke over the rookie who was just picked eighth overall. Burke was simply trying to play his way back into the league, which he did with multiple strong performances, the most notable being a 42-point, 12-assist game against the Hornets.
Nonetheless, these wins helped slot the Knicks at the ninth-best odds in the 2018 draft lottery. The Sacramento Kings, the team with the seventh best odds, leapfrogged up to the second overall pick. The Knicks and Kings were separated by just two games. Had the Knicks tanked better, they would’ve been in a prime position to draft Luka Doncic (though they probably would have still just drafted Kevin Knox anyway).
The moments define the two phases of the Knicks in the 2010’s: being unable to capitalize on terrific performances/seasons from ‘Melo and getting in their own way while rebuilding.
I wish I had a happier moment to use, but the question isn’t “greatest Knicks memory” (‘Melo versus Chicago) or “favorite Knicks memory” (Jeremy Lin beating Kobe). It’s “defining memory,” and this decade of Knicks basketball has been defined by nothing quite so much as failure and heartbreak. When Roy Hibbert blocked Carmelo Anthony’s dunk with five minutes left in an elimination game, he effectively shut the very short window of competitive Knicks basketball. In the final five minutes following said block, Carmelo turned the ball over three times, went 1-for-2 from the field—and just like that, the greatest Knicks season in 16 years was over.
That summer, the Knicks drafted Tim Hardaway Jr. and traded Steve Novak, Marcus Camby, Quentin Richardson, a first-rounder that became a lottery pick (Domantas Sabonis, Caris LeVert, Malcolm Brogdon, and Pascal Siakam were available), and a second-round pick (Thomas Bryant, Dillon Brooks, Sterling Brown, and Monte Morris were available) to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani—two moves that have directly or indirectly defined the nosedive the team has been in over the course of the second half of the decade. If there was one moment that sums up this painful, embarrassing decade in Knicks basketball, it’s probably this one.