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Heat vs. Knicks rivalry renewed: 1990s NBA history comes alive in 2023 NBA Playoffs series

A classic rivalry will be renewed in 2023, as the Knicks and Heat are set to face off with a chance to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.

This year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals marks the sixth time that New York and Miami will meet in the playoffs and the first since the two teams squared off in the opening round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.

The lore of the Knicks-Heat rivalry dates back nearly 30 years. After the two teams first met in the 1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the narratives, physicality and low-scoring finals of each matchup came to encapsulate much of what defined NBA basketball in the late 1990s.

Ahead of their first meeting of the new era, The Sporting News takes a look back at the origins of one of the NBA’s iconic rivalries.

SERIES PREVIEW: Do the Knicks have an answer for Jimmy Butler and the Heat?

Heat-Knicks rivalry renewed 

Pat Riley

While the first playoff meeting came in 1997, the origins of the rivalry can be traced back to June 1995, when Pat Riley unexpectedly stepped down as Knicks head coach.

Many in New York took issue with Riley stepping down via fax and citing a need to have “control of personnel matters” as the key factor in his decision.

No less than three months later did Riley become the Heat’s president and head coach, opening a tampering investigation that ultimately led to Miami compensating New York with a 1996 NBA Draft pick and $1 million.

28 years later, Riley has won a championship as Miami’s head coach and still holds the title of the franchise’s president, serving as the backdrop to the longstanding rivalry.

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Four consecutive playoff meetings

1997 Eastern Conference Semifinals — Miami wins 4-3

In Riley’s second season as Miami’s head coach, he led the team to a 61-21 record and the East’s No. 2 seed, setting up a second-round meeting with the No. 3 seed Knicks.

The series went the distance, but not without controversy.

With Miami facing a 3-1 series deficit, Game 5 saw the Knicks and Heat engage in a fight that, after Miami had put the game out of reach, resulted in suspensions to key Knicks in Games 6 and 7, games that the Heat would win to advance to the Conference Finals.

1998 Eastern Conference First Round — New York wins 3-2

After a hard-fought battle in the 1997 East Semis, the two teams met again in the first round of the 1998 NBA Playoffs. The Heat were still the No. 2 seed but this time, the Knicks were the No. 7 seed seeking an upset.

Again, the series went the distance, and again, there were plenty of extracurricular activities. With Miami looking to close out the series in Game 4, New York looked to stave off elimination to force Game 5.

In the final moments of a Knicks win, former Hornets teammates Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning got involved in an altercation in which Knicks head coach Jeff Van Gundy infamously got involved by grabbing Mourning’s leg. 

Both Johnson and Mourning were suspended for Game 5, and the Knicks won in Mourning’s absence.

1999 Eastern Conference First Round — New York wins 3-2

There were no fireworks this time around, but there was a bit of history and an unforgettable finish.

In the lockout-shortened 1998-99 NBA season, the Knicks finished with the East’s No. 8 seed while the Heat finished first and eyed their first NBA title in a post-Michael Jordan league.

Familiarity made it feel like anything but a 1-8 matchup, and the Knicks and Heat split wins in Games 1 through 4. In Game 5, it was Allan Houston’s iconic floater that put the Heat away, making New York the second 8 seed to win a first-round series and setting up a run to the NBA Finals.

2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals — New York wins 4-3

In another series that went the distance, this one was a heavyweight battle between the No. 3 seed Knicks and No. 2 seed Heat.

Over the course of the seven games, the Heat and Knicks alternated victories between Games 1 through 6, with the largest margin of victory being eight points. In Game 7, the Knicks advanced to the East Finals by virtue of a one-point road win in which the Heat had a chance to win it in the final seconds.

Just how close was the series? In the end, the Knicks scored a total of 568 points. The Heat? 562.

2012 Eastern Conference First Round — Miami wins 4-1

Things looked much different in 2012, as the No. 2 seed Heat featured the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The No. 7 seed Knicks had Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire, but this one wasn’t close.

Miami got out to a 3-0 series lead before New York avoided the sweep with a Game 4 win. The Heat closed things out in Game 5, making this the first-ever series between the two franchises to not need a decisive game.

After defeating New York, James and the Heat would go on to win the 2012 NBA title.

Knicks vs. Heat: Tale of the Tape

Like the individual series, the overall series between these two teams is very close. 

Miami has one more NBA title than New York, but the Knicks have the head-to-head postseason advantage in terms of series wins. The Heat can even the score with a win in 2023, but the No. 5 seed Knicks have home court advantage.

  Knicks Heat
Head-to-head playoff record 14-15 15-14
Head-to-head series wins 3 2
NBA titles 2 3

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