Knicks’ Alec Burks provided playoff heroics that were not seen in ’94 title run

May 14, 2024; New York, New York, USA; New York Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) dribbles against Indiana Pacers forward Obi Toppin (1) during the second half during game five of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Every NBA team needs a player who stays ready off the bench in the playoffs. Alec Burks was exactly that for the New York Knicks in Games 4 and 5 of their second-round series against the Indiana Pacers. His heroics were timely, but also bring to remembrance another potent Knicks scorer who didn’t get the same opportunity in 1994.

Knicks: Alec Burks’ big play off the bench serves as a reminder for 1994 NBA Finals blunder

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA;  Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) shoots the ball while New York Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) shoots the ball while New York Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Former Knicks wing Rolando Blackman rode the pine in Game 7 of their 1994 NBA Finals series against the eventual champion Houston Rockets while franchise great John Starks infamously shot them out of the game.

Blackman could have given the Knicks fresh legs, and the Rockets a different look from the struggling Starks, who shot 2-18 on the night. Instead, he never saw a minute of action, which then-Knicks head coach Pat Riley confessed as being the “biggest mistake” of his career, saying this as Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post shared:

“I got caught up in the short rotation. That’s why we brought Rolando there. Immediately afterward, I knew. If we had played [him], we would have won the championship,” Riley said before making his admission. “That’s the biggest mistake I ever made.”

Blackman was a potent scorer in his era when he played for the Dallas Mavericks. Even after joining the Knicks in the 1992-93 season, he finished the last two seasons of his career in New York averaging 14.7 points per 36 minutes, which did not fall far from the 19.8 he posted for his career, or his 18-point-per-game average.

Burks’ high scoring was instrumental in the Knicks taking a 3-2 lead over the Pacers

May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA;  Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) dribbles the ball while  New York Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
May 12, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) dribbles the ball while New York Knicks guard Alec Burks (18) defends during game four of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Burks may not have the same reputation as Blackman but has proven himself as a big-time scorer when he’s on. He was that and then some with 20 points in 23 minutes off the bench in their 121-89 Game 4 loss, and 18 points in the same amount of time off the bench in New York’s 121-91 Game 5 win.

Thanks in large deal to his contributions, the Knicks avoided going down 3-2 to the Pacers after originally taking a 2-0 series lead. They were made sweeter considering that he fell completely out of the rotation after joining the team at the trade deadline as a highly-valued contributor.

Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau greatly shortened his rotation in the 2024 NBA Playoffs. However, with injuries to players like Bojan Bogdanovic, coupled with a Pacers front that excelled when the series shifted to Indiana, Thibodeau made the right rotational call and it paid off. Now the Knicks are a step away from the Eastern Conference Finals and avoided a mistake that cost the franchise a shot at a championship 30 years ago.

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