Larry Johnson’s four point play is one of my fondest Knicks memories of all time. It’s also an extremely fitting #ThrowbackThursday moment given the current Knicks-Pacers series, so here we go.
My brother and I attended Game 3 of the 1999 Eastern Conference Finals between the Knicks and Pacers. We were, without exaggeration, seated at the very highest level of the Garden. Talk about nosebleeds. If we jumped too high, it was quite possible we’d suffer a concussion from hitting our heads on the roof. But none of that mattered to me because I was one of 18,000 fans who could actually say I witnessed one of the greatest Knicks plays of all time in person.
Because I was seated so high, I stood for most of the game, especially the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. Regardless of how great your vision is or an arena’s sight lines are, when you’re that high up, the angles are unfavorable. Every player looks unrecognizable…like an ant.
As the final minutes of the game turned to seconds, and it became a one to two possession game, I was shook. I could not stomach the moment. It wasn’t Game 7, but the rivalry between the Knicks and Pacers was so intense that every game mattered. They were all must wins. And at this point, the series was tied 1-1. Prior to Game 3, both games had been won by the slimmest of margins, three points or less. Game 3 was proving to be no different. With 11.9 seconds remaining, the Pacers led the Knicks by 3 points. I took a deep breath, shot up a prayer and thought to myself, here we go again.
Charlie Ward inbounded the ball to Larry Johnson and the Pacers almost came up with the steal. I began to implode emotionally. My nerves kicked into overdrive and everything around me slowed down. LJ, however, maintained possession and his cool. Antonio Davis was playing LJ real tight. As the seconds ticked away, I thought is LJ going to be able to even get off a shot? If he did, would it be a good shot? I never even fathomed the idea of a four point play being an option. In my mind, he’d either tie the game and send it to overtime, or miss the shot and ruin the night of every Knicks fan everywhere.
We all know what happened next.
LJ launched the three and it seemed like an eternity between the release of the ball and the made shot. As you’ll see in the video, when 18K fans realized LJ knocked down the shot to tie the game, it was if someone pressed an eject button. All at once, we jumped to our feet, exploding with excitement and disbelief. The high fives and hugs among strangers were never-ending. I yelled so loudly that I became dizzy and had visions of stars. Eventually, we all managed to settle down so LJ could concentrate on his free throw. But when it was clear that LJ nailed the game winning foul shot, every inch of MSG began to rock again with fans super charged from the greatest adrenaline rush one could ever experience. Whatever feeling you’re imagining right now, it was that times a million.
Here’s footage from one of the most dramatic moments in Knicks playoffs history.
Whenever I visit the Garden or see Larry Johnson, I think about this play. For me, it’s definitely a top five sports moment. Without a doubt.