For the first time in 40 years, the Rangers and Bruins will do battle in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
40 years is a long time. Surprising it’s been that long since these two Original Six rivals met in a playoff series.
When the Rangers and Bruins last met in the post-season, there were only 16 teams in the NHL and half of them made the playoffs.
The year was 1973. Watergate was percolating and Richard Nixon was on the way out, the average annual income was $12,900, and Secretariat won the Triple Crown. This intrepid sportswriter was about to graduate from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass., a Ranger fan in a sea of Bruins black and gold.
Meeting for the third time in four years, the Rangers ambushed the Bruins in five games in their 1973 first-round clash. Goalie Eddie Giacomin’s shutout in Game 4 and Calder Trophy winner Steve Vicker’s, shown above, hat trick in the 6-3 finale at Boston Garden led the Rangers to the series win.
The Bruins, led by Conn Smythe Trophy winner Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and a star-studded cast, beat the Rangers in six games in 1972 to win the Stanley Cup. The B’s also won the Cup in 1970, knocking off the Rangers in six games in the quarterfinals.
In total, the Rangers and Bruins have met nine times in the playoffs, with the Bruins winning six of those match-up. In 1958, the Bruins beat the Rangers in a six-game semifinal.
The rivals clashed three straight years beginning in 1927. In 1928, New York beat Boston 5-2 in a two-game, total-goal semifinal format, then beat the Montreal Maroons to win the Stanley Cup. The Bruins captured the Cup in 1929 when they beat the Rangers 2-0 in the finals.
In 1939, Mel “Sudden Death” Hill became a household name in New England when he scored three overtime goals to help the Bruins beat the Rangers in the semifinals and went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Rangers returned the favor in 1940, beating Boston in six games and then topping Toronto 4-2 in the Cup finals. It would be 54 years before they won another.
The Boston Marathon is one of the great sports events in America. I’ve been to more than 10 Boston Marathons through the years, from covering races in the 1970s (here’s me interviewing four-time Boston winner Bill Rodgers at Boston College, training for the 1978 Marathon) to recent years. Seen friends run from the vantage of prime seats at the finish line on Boylston Street. The unspeakable horrors of the 2013 Boston Marathon will never be forgotten. But Americans will not be terrified. Boston is strong and resilient, and will run again. We witnessed the true American spirit in the moments after the bombings, where first responders rushed in to to help the victims. Our hearts go out to those who were killed and injured. God bless America.
Here are 10 things you absolutely had to know about the storied playoff history between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks, the NBA’s two remaining charter franchises.
1. All-Time Record
The Celtics and Knicks are meeting for the 14th time in playoff hyistory. Boston won seven of the previous 13, including a 2-0 win in a curious 1954 round robin with the Syracuse Nats. Overall Boston leads the series 34-27.
2. Common Foes
That’s second all-time to the 18th playoff meetings between Boston and the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers. They have met 19 times, though just twice since 1985.
3. The First Time
Boston faced New York for the first time in 1951, when the Knicks beat the Celtics, 2-0 behind Max Zaslofsky, a guard from Brooklyn and St. John’s, who averaged 17.9 points a game.
4. Knicks in the 50s
The Knicks won the first three playoff meetings — in 1951, 1952 and 1953 — and advanced to the NBA Finals each year, losing all three times.
5. Eventual Champs
Four times the winner of the Celtics-Knicks playoff series has gone on to win the NBA Championship — Boston in 1969, 1974 and 1984 and New York in 1973.
6. Seventh Heaven
Twice the series has gone seven games, in 1973 and 1984. The Celtics had never lost a Game 7 before 1973, but the Knicks marched into Boston Garden and won 94-78 behind Walt Frazier.
7. Larry Legend
The Knicks pushed the Celtics to seven games in 1984, but Boston dominated the finale and won 121-104 behind Larry Bird, who averaged a career post-season high 27.5 points that year.
8. King of the Court
Knicks forward Bernard King averaged 29.1 points per game for the Knicks in the 1984 series, the highest single series scoring average in the history of the rivalry.
9. The Last Time
The Celtics swept the Knicks in four straight in a 2011 first round meeting. Before that, they last met in the playoffs back in the spring of 1990, when Paul Pierce was 12 years old and rooting for the Lakers; Carmelo Anthony was in kindergarten.
10. Knicks Break Streak
In 1990, the Knicks rallied from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five series and won Game 5 to break a 26-game losing streak over six years at Boston Garden.
The 1973 Knicks….and Spike Lee….were reunited recently at Madison Square Garden.
Through the years, New York sports fans have been spoiled by success. The Yankees have won more championships than any other professional team in North America. The Giants have won a pair of Super Bowls since 2008, both stirring wins over the favored new England Patriots. The Mets and the Jets have experienced miracle moments. Even the Rangers ended a 54-year drought to win the 1994 Stanley Cup.
And then there are the New York Knicks, Gotham’s answer to the Chicago Cubs, who for all their failures throughout the years might as well be stationed in Cleveland.
The Knicks enter the playoffs as second seed in the East, a team with high expectations but also a team with the weight of the world on its shoulders.
It’s been 40 years since the Knicks, one of the NBA’s two remaining charter franchises (the Boston Celtics are the other), last won a title. Back in 1973. Watergate was percolating, gasoline cost 40 centers a gallon, and George Steinbrenner was buying the Yankees from CBS for $12 million.
Things were different on the court too. For the most part, the game was played below the rim. The players wore tight shorts and funny sneakers and had long hair. And there was no three-point line.
Some refer to the 1973 Knicks as the forgotten champions. New York had won its first NBA title three years earlier, a championship ingrained in basketball lore when injured center Willis Reed walked on the Madison Square Garden court to spark his teammates to a Game 7 victory.
After losing the Lakers in five games in the NBA Finals in 1972, the Knicks realized their window of opportunity was closing fast. But with a Hall of Fame starting five — Reed was joined by forwards Dave DeBusschere and Bill Bradley and guards Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe — the Knicks beat Boston in seven games in the Eastern finals, then took Los Angeles in five games for the championship.
Every Knick team since then has been unfavorably compared to those two championship squads of the early 70s.
Until recently, no known footage of that 1973 championship clincher existed. Proving that perhaps you can go back, the MSG Network recently unearthed a copy of that Game 5 win.
This year’s NCAA Cinderella is a Shocker. Ninth-seeded Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference knocked off #1 seed Gonzaga and #2 seed Ohio State in a surprising run to the Final Four. Wichita evoked memories of mid-majors like George Mason, VCU, and Butler, other recent tournament darlings who made it to the last dance.
For Wichita, it’s been quite the NCAA drought. The last time the Shockers advanced this far, in 1965, LBJ was President, “The Sound of Music” was released, the Beatles played at Shea Stadium and gasoline cost 31 center per gallon.
That year Wichita State survived the in-season losses of two future NBA players, All-American forward Dave Stallworth and center Nate Bowman. Stallworth’s eligibility expired in the middle of the season, and Bowman was declared academically ineligible.
Still the Shockers persevered. They were ranked No. 1 in the country in December, won the MVC by two games, then beat SMU and Oklahoma State to reach the Final Four in Portland, Oregon
The Shockers lost to eventual champion UCLA, coached by the legendary John Wooden, in the semifinals. In those days, the semi losers played in a consolation game for third place.
Wichita fell to Princeton 118-82 in a game in which Bill Bradley, pictured above, scored a Final Four record 58 points. That night, Bradley made 22-of-29 field goals and 14-of-15 free throws to set a record which has stood for nearly 50 years.
UCLA, led by guard Gail Goodrich, went on to beat Michigan and All-American Cazzie Russell for its second consecutive NCAA title. The Bruins, sparked by Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton and others, would go on to win 10 NCAA titles in a 12-year span.
Stallworth, Bowman, Bradley and Russell were all members of the New York Knicks 1970 NBA championship team. A year later, Stallworth was traded to the Baltimore Bullets along with Mike Riordan for Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. And Russell was dealt to the San Francisco Warriors for Jerry Lucas.
Bowman, who filled in for Willis Reed in that famed 1970 Game Seven against the Lakers and actually outscored the Knicks captain 6-4, was sent to the Buffalo Braves along with Mike Silliman for cash after the 1970 season. Bradley played his entire 10-year career with the Knicks and became both a Hall of Famer and a United States Senator.
Is the Big East primed for one last NCAA dance, a final run for old time’s sake?
The powerhouse Big East, which was founded in 1979, has produced six NCAA Championships — three by UConn and one apiece from Georgetown, Villanova and Syracuse. Big East teams have made 16 Final Four appearances since 1980, including a tour de force in 1985 when eventual champion Villanova, runner-up Georgetown and St. John’s all made it, the only time that’s occurred in the tournament.
Of the league’s current members, only South Florida has failed to make the Final Four, although Marquette, DePaul, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Pitt all made it before they became Big East members.
Only the ACC with 10 titles — Duke and North Carolina with four each, and NC State and Maryland with one apiece — has won more NCAA Championships since 1980. And no conference has sent more different teams to the Final Four during that span. That’s parity.
When the late Dave Gavitt, former Providence coach, founded the Big East in 1979, it consisted of seven charter members — Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, Villanova, Syracuse, Boston College and Connecticut. The first four along with Seton Hall, DePaul and Marquette will form their own BCS basketball league, taking the Big East name with them. But it won’t be the Big East as we know it.
The Beast of the East. What memories. Great coaches like Jim Boheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, Rick Pitino. P.J. Carlesimo and Rollie Massimino. Great players like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Ray Allen, Mark Jackson, Kemba Walker, Walter Berry and Dwayne “Pearl” Washington. And so many great rivalries and games, arguably none better than “Six in the City” — the six overtime classic between Syracuse and UConn in the 2009 Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Maybe the Big East can do it again. Louisville is the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Georgetown, a #2 seed, is playing in the year of the Jesuit, as is third-seed Marquette. And perennials like Syracuse and Notre Dame are in the mix. Once more, for old time’s sake.
Baseball fans can debate who’s the best hitter, the best pitcher, the best shortstop, the greatest team….and on, and on. But on this there’s no debate — Mariano Rivera, who has announced that this will be his final season, is the greatest closer in the history of baseball.
Rivera is baseball’s all-time saves leader with 608, with 42 more in the post-season. Do the math, that’s four full seasons of getting the last out in a Yankees win.
Arguably the most indispensable Yankee over the past 17 years….heck perhaps the most valuable player in baseball during that time. Rivera is a Hall of Fame lock.
Ever so humble, Rivera told ESPN’s Andrew Marchand: “I don’t feel myself, the greatest of all time. I’m a team player. I would love to be remembered as a player who was always there for others.”
Only one player in baseball, wears #42 — Mariano Rivera. That number was retired in 1997 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s “color barrier.”
Speaking of River, Jackie’s 90-year old widow Rachel Robinson told Ian O’Connor of ESPN: “He carried himself with dignity and grace, that made carrying the number a tribute to Jack.”
A great player and a great man. The great Rivera. There will never be another like him.
Here are 10 cool facts about Mariano Rivera:
1. Since he became the Yankee closer in 1997 (taking over for the departed John Wetteland), Rivera has been remarkably consistent. He had at least 28 saves for 15 straight seasons before injuring his knee and missing nearly all of 2012.
2. Rivera actually started 10 games in 1995, his rookie year. before the Yankees realized he was born to be a reliever. That year he had a 5-3 record to go with a 5.51 ERA.
3. Since then, Rivera’s ERA has been above 3.00 just once (3.15 in 2007). His career low came in 2005, when he recorded a 1.38 ERA. Overall, he’s 76-58 with a 2.21 ERA.
4. Mo has led the American League in saves three times — 45 (1999), 50 (2001) and a career-high and Yankee best 53 in 2004.
5. Mariano Rivera has never won a Cy Young Award. He did finish second once, third three times, and fifth once in Cy Young balloting. He finished as high as ninth in AL MVP voting in 2004 and 2005.
6. “I save games, they save lives. That’s what real heroes are all about.” — Mariano Rivera, who gave his 2001 Rolaids “Relief Man” award to FDNY.
7. When Jackie Robinson’s #42 was retired in 1997, players who were wearing #42 at that time were allowed to keep it until they retired. Fittingly, Rivera is the only one left. He’s worn it alone since 2003.
8. Mo once claimed his most memorable moment came in 2003, when he pitched three scoreless innings against the Red Sox before Aaron Boone homered to win Game 7 of the ALCS.
9. Rivera’s post-season numbers are off the charts. In addition to his 42 saves, Mariano has an 8-1 record and a microscopic 0.70 ERA in playoff competition, covering 141 innings.
10. Rivera has given up just two post-season home runs in 96 games, neither to a left-hand hitter. Sandy Alomar, Jr, of the Indians (1997) and Jay Payton of the Mets (2000) are the only two players to claim a post-season home run against Rivera.