There was a time in the NBA when the Chicago Bulls & New York Knicks were "can't miss" basketball. When they faced, they would always entertain and play their hearts out. With guys like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen representing the Bulls, the Knicks were represented by Patrick Ewing and John Starks in the early 90's. The coaches of the teams were two of the greatest coaches in NBA history: Phil Jackson for Chicago and Pat Riley for New York. It seemed like they met every year in the playoffs in the early-mid 90's. Jumping to today, the Bulls and Knicks rivalry isn't what is used to be, but let's be honest, there's almost no rivalries in the NBA anymore. The Bulls and Knicks still play against each other like the other is their bitter rival, however, and that still makes for some fun basketball. With Phil Jackson now trying to implement the triangle offense in New York, the Bulls are spearheaded by former Bulls player John Paxson and Gar Forman. The coach of the Bulls is defensive guru Tom Thibodeau while the coach of the Knicks is one of the most clutch players to ever play the game, Derek Fisher. Let's take a look back at this beautifully historic rivalry.
These franchises have played 36 playoff games against each other. The first playoff meeting between Chicago, who came into the league in 1966, and New York, who came into the league in 1946, happened in 1981, where the Bulls swept the Knicks in a quick two-game series, including a Game 2 115-114 OT victory for Chicago. These two historic franchises would not meet again in the playoffs until 1989. The rivalry was on a much grander scale this time around. New York had just won their first Atlantic Division title (with a 52-30 record) since 1971. They were the #2 seed in the East. The Bulls had the #6 seed in the East and had just ousted the #3 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the previous round. The trump card, however, was Michael Jordan. Jordan was not only the reigning Most Valuable Player of the league, but also the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. On the line in this match-up was a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Bulls stunned New York in Game 1, forcing overtime and eventually winning 120-109 at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks would fight back to even the series as the series headed back to the Windy City, where Chicago would win two straight games to take a 3-1 series lead over New York and put a stranglehold on the series. With the Knicks defending homecourt and living to fight another day, the Bulls would be forced to try and put New York away at home. With ice in his veins, Michael Jordan did just that, sinking the series-clinching free throws with 4 seconds left in the game and winning the series for Chicago, 4 games to 2. The Bulls thus far have yet to lose a series to New York in the playoffs.
In their 1991 playoff meeting, the New York Knicks played the role of glorified jobber to the Bulls in the first round en route to Chicago's first NBA Championship. The Bulls swept the Knicks three games to none, with Chicago's average margin of victory being just under 17 points per game. The Bulls would continue their dominance over New York in the playoffs, having never lost a series against the Knicks in the playoffs in their three match-ups. In 1992, however, the story was completely different. New York stunned the #1 seeded Bulls in Game 1 in Chicago, winning 94-89. The Bulls would have to scratch and claw their way to a victory in Game 2 to even the series. Chicago and New York would each win 2 of the next 4 games, making both of their seasons come down to a decisive Game 7 in Chicago. New York had proven that they were not to be taken lightly this season, and they provided the biggest test to the Bulls dynasty-era team in the early 90's. Chicago, however, had had enough of New York for one season, and convincingly squashed them in Game 7, winning 110-81 to move on to Eastern Conference Finals. This series is regarded as one of the most intense series of all-time, with star players (and non-star players) on both sides of the ball getting heated and in each others' faces.
The Knicks would meet the Bulls in the playoffs for the fourth straight year. This time, however, was very different. The Bulls were without Michael Jordan, who retired at the end of their first three-peat. For the second straight year, the Knicks would beat the Bulls in the first two games of the series, both games coming at home. Many thought that this was finally the Knicks year and that they would finally defeat the Bulls in the playoffs. Chicago would then win their next two games at home (with Game 3 seeing a brawl between Jo Jo English and Derek Harper as well as a game-winner by Toni Kukoc after Scottie Pippen refused to take the floor), evening the series after four games. With both New York and Chicago winning each of their games at home, the series was tied after six games, with a decisive Game 7 coming at home for New York. New York would not disappoint their hometown crowd, defeating the Bulls 87-77 to win the series, beating the Bulls in a playoff series for the first time, losing their previous 5 wars against Chicago.
Their last playoff meeting came in the 1996 season. This time, however, was very different. The Bulls had their hero back as Michael Jordan came out of retirement to play for the Bulls again. The Bulls dominated the regular season, earning the best regular season record in NBA history (72-10). However, their worst loss of the regular season came against the Knicks when New York squashed them to the tune of a 102-74 resounding loss for Chicago. Their playoff match-up wasn't as close as it had been in previous battles, with Chicago beating the Knicks in just 5 games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. This, to this point, was the last time these two teams met in the playoffs.
Chicago and New York have faced each other in 36 playoff games, with Chicago winning 24 of them and New York winning 12. Of New York's 12 victories, only 1 came in Chicago. Of the Bulls 24 victories, 6 came in New York. The Bulls also hold a 6-1 series advantage over New York in the playoffs, with New York's only victory coming while the Bulls were without Michael Jordan. In the regular season, the Bulls are leading that series, too. The Bulls and Knicks have met 213 times in the regular season, with the Bulls winning 115 of those match-ups and the Knicks winning 98 of them. Though the 90's were the glory days of the rivalry, these teams still dislike one another to this day. When they look on the schedule and see the other team is coming up, they get hyped for that game, and you can tell on the court. Each game played between these two teams is played with the physicality that you would see in a playoff game. This rivalry still has had tons of fun moments since the glory days. Jump to December 21st, 2012, when the Bulls beat the Knicks in New York 110-106. That game was hotly contested and saw four ejections, three for New York (Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Mike Woodson) and one for Chicago (Joakim Noah). The type of intensity seen in that game is to be expected when Chicago and New York share the floor.