History not on Knicks’ side in NBA playoff series vs. Hawks

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These aren’t what you would call gentlemanly odds.

There have been 260 NBA teams that have fallen into a 3-1 hole in a best-of-seven playoff series before this year. There have been 13 that have come back to win the series. For those without a calculator, that is 5 percent of the time.

You don’t need a calculator for this one:

The Knicks have fallen into a 3-1 hole in a best-of-seven playoff series 13 times in their history — and sure, if the reappearance of the number 13 in this allegory seems like a bad omen, it probably is — and they have come back to win that series zero times. That — checking my math here — is 0.0 percent of the time.

In fact, the majority of those times — eight, in fact — the Knicks went down to elimination the very next game. There have been few epic standoffs, let alone a time when the Knicks were able to right themselves mid-course. Only twice have they made it as far as seven games.

These are the dice in their hands.

This is the steep incline they face beginning Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, when they will try to buy themselves at least two more days of basketball season, when the Hawks will try to deliver what would certainly be a sweet knockout punch for the entire city of Atlanta if they can squash the Knicks’ season in Game 5.

New York Knicks meet at a time out
The Knicks face some long odds to become the 14th NBA team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit.
Corey Sipkin

“We lost the first game and it felt like from there we were a dog chasing its tail, chase, chase, chase, and that never ends well. It’s frustrating. I wish we could have Game 1 back.”

Those aren’t the words of Julius Randle or Derrick Rose, RJ Barrett or Tom Thibodeau — not yet, anyway. Those are the words of Carmelo Anthony, as he stood inside a church-still visiting locker room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on the night of May 18, 2013, maybe an hour after the Knicks had lost Game 6 to the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

That series — the Knicks’ most recent postseason adventure — progressed much as this one has. The lower-seeded Pacers walked into the Garden and won Game 1, 102-95. The Knicks held serve in Game 2. The Pacers beat the Knicks like a drum in Games 3 and 4. Those Knicks did scuffle back to Indiana, winning Game 5 in an 85-75 slog. But in a feisty Game 6, Anthony went up for a critical dunk and instead met the waiting palm of Pacers center Roy Hibbert, who delivered the singular moment of his NBA career.

“We used so much effort to try and get back in the series,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said a few days later. “And when you do that, sometimes you don’t have as much in the tank as you need.”

The 13 teams who have survived the perilous perch in which the Knicks now find themselves mostly have one thing in common: Usually they’re of championship stock. The 1968 Celtics (who beat the 76ers), ’81 Celtics (76ers), ’95 Rockets (Suns), and ’16 Cavaliers (Warriors) all won titles not long after their recovery; the ’70 Lakers (Suns), ’79 Bullets (Spurs), ’03 Pistons (Magic) and ’16 Warriors (Thunder) were all either a year away from or a year removed from a championship.

The Knicks have been victimized once, but that comes with an asterisk for all acolytes of those ‘90s-era teams; in 1997, they led the Heat 3-1 and were at the end of losing Game 5 in Miami when a fight between Charlie Ward and P.J. Brown cleared both benches — or, at the least, moved a few players to walk a few feet off them — and the Knicks wound up playing both Games 6 and 7 seriously shorthanded.

Indianapolis, IN- Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert (55) blocks New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7)
The Knicks’ last playoff outing ended in heartbeak, with Roy Hibbert’s 2013 block against Carmelo Anthony.
Anthony Causi

The Nuggets did it twice in last year’s Florida bubble, and that alone probably qualifies for its own category since they never had to budge from central Florida or encounter one hostile fan in coming back against the Jazz in the first round and the Clippers the next.

No matter the circumstance, listen to Elvin Hayes in the minutes after his defending-champ ’79 Bullets beat the Spurs in Game 7, 107-105: “I feel like we used every drop of energy we had. I hope we have some left for the Finals.”

(They didn’t; Seattle avenged the ’78 Finals with an easy 4-1 series win.)

The Knicks? The two times they managed to scramble back to a Game 7 … well, let’s just say some of their fans might’ve been OK if they’d just gone and spit the bit in Game 5. In 1995, after spotting the Pacers a 3-1 lead (that time they did catch the tail, beating the Pacers in Game 6 at Market Square Arena), they lost Game 7 at the Garden when Patrick Ewing’s finger roll famously spun out at the buzzer in what turned out to be Pat Riley’s last game.

And back in 1951 — a time in sports when only the 1942 Maple Leafs had ever done this before — the Knicks spotted the Rochester Royals (and guard Red Holzman) a 3-0 lead in the NBA Finals, won the next three games to tie, then lost a 79-75 heartbreaker in Game 7 at Edgerton Park Arena, a game that wasn’t decided until ex-Seton Hall star Bob Davies knocked down two tie-breaking foul shots with 44 seconds to go.

Game 7s, we know, can be unkind. Knicks fans, we are certain, wouldn’t mind a reminder of that come Sunday.

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