1st-Round Rewind: Raptors knock out Knicks in 2001
With the start of 2019-20 NBA Playoffs delayed, theScore's basketball editors are picking their favorite first-round series from years past. Today, we're looking back at the 2001 first-round, best-of-five matchup between the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks.
One year earlier in the franchise's first postseason appearance, the Raptors received a rude awakening from the Knicks. New York swept the Raps in three games, with the dagger coming when Larry Johnson silenced the Toronto crowd with a banked three and an "LJ" arm gesture.
The Raptors lost Tracy McGrady, who left a young Vince Carter at the peak of his superstardom, to free agency the ensuing summer. The team also fired head coach Butch Carter, replacing him with Lenny Wilkens - who at the time was the winningest coach in NBA history.
At the apex of his "Air Canada" powers, Carter recorded career highs in scoring and 3-point percentage in 2000-01, continuing his apparent ascent toward fellow UNC alum Michael Jordan's rarefied air.
Toronto swung two key deals on trade deadline day that season, acquiring Jerome Williams from the Detroit Pistons, and trading Mark Jackson and Muggsy Bogues to the Knicks for Chris Childs.
The Raptors finished 47-35 and would again face the Knicks (48-34), who held home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference's best-of-five first-round matchup pitting the fourth seed against the fifth.
The stars: Combo guard Alvin Williams, bigs Antonio Davis and ex-Knicks fan favorite Charles Oakley, and point guard Childs supplemented the Raptors behind Carter.
New York was still riding the wing duo of Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston, and along with former Raptor Marcus Camby (who was traded for Oakley), they had led the Knicks to the 1999 NBA Finals as an eighth seed.
Meanwhile, by 2001 Johnson was in an injury-induced decline, and the season was the first since 1984-85 that Patrick Ewing didn't play for New York.
Carter led all scorers in the playoff series with 22.8 points per game. In a time long before pace-and-space, the Raptors and Knicks attempted 57 and 59 shots from beyond the arc, respectively, over the five games (for reference, NBA teams are averaging almost 34 per game this season). Stephen Curry's father Dell, a noted deep threat of the era, took only eight 3-point attempts in the series for the Raptors, connecting on two.
Turning point: In what would evolve into an on-brand occurrence for the Raptors, they dropped Game 1 of the series. The two teams then exchanged wins, leaving the Knicks with a chance to wrap it up in Toronto. Held somewhat in check the first three contests, Carter wouldn't be outdone in Game 4, attacking early and finishing with a series-high 32 points.
That set up a deciding Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.
Both teams kept it close throughout the first half before the Raptors began to pull away in the third quarter. The Knicks tried to close the gap, but they couldn't get within better than three points during the dying minutes.
With Toronto up four and under a minute left, Alvin Williams almost turned the ball over, but Carter recovered it to keep the play alive. Williams then darted clear of the double-team closing on Vince, took a pass from him, and buried an open jumper for the series-clinching dagger.
It was the Raptors' first-ever playoff series win, and the first time in a decade the Knicks failed to advance past the first round.
X-factor: In addition to hitting the clincher, Williams played some of the best basketball of his injury-marred NBA career in the series, averaging 17.4 points and four assists while shooting 50% from deep.
Key coaching moment: Following Toronto's Game 1 loss, Wilkens took rookie Morris Peterson out of the starting lineup, inserting Childs at the point and sliding everyone else up. The former Knick responded by going 8-for-12 shooting from deep - and 10-of-11 at the foul line - the rest of the way.
The series represents a bittersweet benchmark for both teams.
The Raptors would go on to lose in seven games in the next round to the Philadelphia 76ers, with Carter missing a potential series-winning shot on the same day that he flew back from his college graduation. Injuries and a well-documented split with the organization followed for Carter, making the win over the Knicks the franchise's high-water mark for 15 years before Toronto finally won another first-round series in 2016.
For the Knicks, the loss ended an even longer era, capping off a 14-year run of postseason appearances.
Jeff Van Gundy quit as head coach 19 games into the following season, and the team would reach the playoffs just four times over the next 19 years. It's not lost on many that the era-ending 2001 loss came just two years after James Dolan took majority control of the team.