Ranking Best NBA Performances Ever at Madison Square Garden
Madison Square Garden has been called many things—MSG, the Mecca of Basketball, the world's most famous arena and a handful of other nicknames that don't get used quite as often.
But you might also call it the site of many historic performances.
Everyone wants to show off for the New York faithful when they come into town, and it's resulted in a handful of games that will never be forgotten. Picking the best of the best from MSG's history is a difficult endeavor, but it's one we're embarking upon nevertheless.
As a procedural note, we're only looking at games that occurred within the constraints of MSG IV, which opened for the start of the 1968-69 season. Anything that happened before then is sadly ineligible, so don't make any impassioned pleas for heroics from Richie Guerin or any other Knicks of the distant past.
Additionally, games are being ranked as performances, not just statistical outputs. The numbers players are putting up is a large determining factor, but circumstances, history and subjective elements will be taken into account as well.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Ewing with the Dominant Double-Double
Date: Dec. 1, 1990
Team: New York Knicks
Result: 113-96 victory over the Charlotte Hornetss
Stats: 50 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 blocks
A lot of players have recorded at least 50 points in a single outing while playing at Madison Square Garden, but only Patrick Ewing has ever reached that benchmark while simultaneously pulling down at least 15 boards.
Tyson Chandler has the single-game rebound record at MSG, pulling down 28 in a victorious outing last season against the Golden State Warriors. Interestingly enough, that happened during the same game as another performance that will be prominently featured later in this article.
But among players with at least 15 rebounds to their credit in a single game at this locale, only Ewing has been able to score at least 50 points. He did so twice, and this was the more impressive outing, even if he scored one fewer point and recorded three fewer rebounds than in the other game.
Ewing recorded an additional assist, three blocks and fewer turnovers while posting a more-efficient performance from the field. Oh, and he led the Knicks to a win.
Consider the other one another honorable mention if you so choose.
10. Rajon Rondo with the Ridiculous Triple-Double
Date: April 22, 2011
Team: Boston Celtics
Result: 113-96 victory over the New York Knicks
Stats: 15 points, 11 rebounds, 20 assists, 2 steals
In this version of Madison Square Garden's history, only 24 triple-doubles have been recorded. Just four of those came during the postseason.
Among that quartet, which also includes two performances from Michael Jordan and one from Dennis Johnson, Rajon Rondo has the fewest points scored. He only dropped 15 during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round series between the Knicks and Boston Celtics, but he made up for his lack of scoring elsewhere.
You know, like with 20 assists.
According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), Doc Rivers had nothing but positive things to say about his point guard after the game:
Rivers compared his point guard, who shared the Celtics' record with Hall of Famer Bob Cousy, to a catcher calling a perfect game. But Rondo gave credit to the screeners who were freeing up so much space for Allen and Pierce.
But if that was a perfect game, what does it make everything else appearing in these rankings?
9. Bernard King Says, "Merry Christmas"
Date: Dec. 25, 1984
Team: New York Knicks
Result: 120-114 loss to the New Jersey Nets
Stats: 60 points, 7 rebounds
For a long time, this stood as the gold standard of scoring explosions in Madison Square Garden.
During a Christmas Day loss to the New Jersey Nets, Bernard King went for a cool 60 points, setting records for both the Knicks franchise and for Madison Square Garden. He deserved to wear a cape and a crown, because he truly was the king of New York.
With his high-release jumper, which was nearly unstoppable throughout the prime of his career, King shot 19-of-30 from the field. But he also spent quite a bit of time at the stripe.
The Nets, led by 36 points from Michael Ray Richardson and 14 rebounds from Mike Gminski, just couldn't stop fouling the New York forward.
King ended up draining 22 free throws in the outing. It's the only time a Knick has ever made at least 20 freebies in the Garden, and only five opponents have ever done so within the unfriendly confines of the arena.
If it weren't for a 23-free-throw outing by Kobe Bryant in 2006, King would still hold that record.
8. LeBron James Drops Half a Hundred
Date: March 5, 2008
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Result: 119-105 victory over the New York Knicks
Stats: 50 points, 8 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 steals
LeBron James did not notch a triple-double during this takedown of the New York Knicks, and it didn't occur during the playoffs. But he came pretty darn close to the former, falling only two rebounds shy.
That said, a triple-double is more of a historic achievement than one rooted in excellence. It's hard to have a bad triple-double, but failing to meet one of the marks doesn't necessarily diminish the accomplishment.
LeBron was particularly impressive during this outing because he drilled seven three-pointers. His shot was falling all night long, and he was almost refusing to turn the rock over, recording only two turnovers in his nearly 44 minutes on the court.
"I've dreamed about playing well in this building, and it's overtaken of how I could ever dream about," James told the Associated Press (via ESPN) after a game that led to MVP chants and a Cleveland Cavaliers fan meandering his way onto the court. "To get a standing ovation in the greatest basketball arena in the world, it was a dream come true for me. It's one of the best things that ever happened to me."
7. Michael Jordan Makes the Comeback Official
Date: March 28, 1995
Team: Chicago Bulls
Result: 113-111 victory over the New York Knicks
Stats: 55 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal
Michael Jordan may as well have said, "I'm back!" one more time after he finished torching the New York Knicks in a two-point victory.
The greatest basketball payer of all time had returned from hist first retirement just nine days earlier, and this was only his fifth game back in a Chicago Bulls uniform.
Take a look at the results:
|March 19||Indiana Pacers||Loss||19|
|March 22||Boston Celtics||Win||27|
|March 24||Orlando Magic||Loss||21|
|March 25||Atlanta Hawks||Win||32|
|March 28||New York Knicks||Win||55|
Jordan didn't do much beside providing a scoring punch during this outing, but it still did the trick. Especially because he did so on 21-of-37 shooting from the field.
The circumstances definitely make this one more historical than it would be otherwise. Remember, we're ranking performances, not just statistical lines, though that certainly plays a large part in the order.
6. Reggie Miller Explodes in the 4th
Date: June 1, 1994
Team: Indiana Pacers
Result: 93-86 victory over the New York Knicks
Stats: 39 points, 6 assists, 1 steal
This isn't so much about what Reggie Miller did during the game as a whole, but rather what he did during the fourth quarter of a hard-fought victory over the New York Knicks.
The 1995 Eastern Conference Finals were tied at two games apiece, and the Knicks got off to a quick start with a 12-point lead over the Indiana Pacers at the end of the first quarter. At halftime, the lead had shrunk, but it was still eight points.
Then Miller took over in the fourth.
Goaded by Spike Lee, Miller dropped 25 points in the final period to spark a comeback victory. You may remember what it led to.
The New York Daily News even ran a headline the next day that read, "Thanks a Lot, Spike."
5. Walt Frazier Somehow Gets Overshadowed
Date: May 8, 1970
Team: New York Knicks
Result: 113-99 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers
Stats:36 points, 19 assists, 7 rebounds
Talk about complete and utter domination.
The stage doesn't get any bigger than this, as Walt Frazier suited up for the Knicks during a crucial Game 7 that would determine the winner of the 1970 NBA Finals. No big deal, right?
He put on a show from start to finish, nearly recording the vaunted 30/20 in points and assists, though he ultimately fell just 10 cents short. Twenty-two of his points came in the first half of a contest that really wasn't close, and the second half was nearly devoid of pressure as the Los Angeles Lakers had fallen too far behind to catch up.
So, why doesn't this get more recognition?
Well, Willis Reed just had to steal the show, walking out of the locker room to the surprise of everyone. He'd score the first two buckets of the game, but even though he was done contributing, he was given credit for inspiring his troops on to victory.
You know, because the Knicks obviously needed more inspiration during a winner-takes-all contest.
4. Kobe Bryant Goes for 61
Date: Feb. 2, 2009
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
Result: 126-117 victory over the New York Knicks
Stats: 61 points, 3 assists, 1 block
Bernard King's record at Madison Square Garden stood until Kobe Bryant squeezed out a new one during a nine-point victory over the home team.
According to the Associated Press (via ESPN), the Mamba even drew MVP chants of his own:
Bryant teased and pleased a sold-out crowd that took turns booing him and saluting him with "MVP!" chants during an electrifying performance. He passed Michael Jordan's opponent record of 55 points at the present building, known as "Garden IV," when he hit three free throws with 3:56 remaining, then bettered Bernard King's mark of 60, set on Christmas Day 1984, with two more foul shots with 2:33 to play.
It was Kobe's fifth time breaking the 60-point barrier, but it had to be one of the most memorable, thanks to the historic nature of the building.
He went a perfect 20-of-20 at the free-throw line and went 19-of-31 from the field.
And as David Lee made clear after the game, he was even quiet. That's how focused he was.
Must've been a historic night.
3. LeBron James Tops Kobe
Date: Feb. 4, 2009
Team: Cleveland Cavaliers
Result: 107-102 victory over the New York Knicks
Stats: 54 points, 9 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 blocks
Apparently the New York Knicks were in a giving mood during February of 2009.
Two days after Kobe torched them for 61 points, LeBron James had his way in a five-point victory. And his performance was even more impressive, although he scored seven fewer points.
Kobe only scored.
LeBron was one rebound shy of a triple-double, and he still managed to put up 54 points for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Even though Zydrunas Ilgauskas' 15 points were the second-highest output on his team, he steered the Cavs to victory.
"The sad thing is that I'm sure LeBron said that it's no big deal to get 61 points," Mike D'Antoni, then the coach of the New York Knicks, said to the Associated Press (via ESPN) after the game. "I'll just get a triple-double. [Kobe] didn't do that."
Kobe didn't put up a performance this impressive either.
2. Stephen Curry Lights Up from Downtown
Date: Feb. 27, 2013
Team: Golden State Warriors
Result: 109-104 loss to the New York Knicks
Stats: 54 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals
There are some nights when everything falls.
Although Stephen Curry's rebounding and passing numbers didn't make this more impressive than LeBron's triple-double years before, his scoring did the trick.
The Golden State Warriors' baby-faced assassin needed only 28 shots to score 54 points, thanks to a ridiculous 11-of-13 outing from beyond the arc. In the history of Madison Square Garden, only five players have managed to score at least 27 points from downtown:
- Carmelo Anthony, nine triples
- Latrell Sprewell, nine
- John Starks, nine
- Toney Douglas, nine
- Stephen Curry, 11
That's how you stand out, and The New York Times' Beckley Mason was quite impressed:
Curry’s dynamite first half set off the alarm bells, but by the time the Knicks increased their defensive focus and intensity in the second half, Curry’s blaze was beyond control. A 24-year-old guard, he buried all seven of his second-half three-point shots despite the Knicks’ efforts to smother him with multiple defenders. And when the Knicks did trap the ball out of his hands, he routinely managed to find his outlet, who could then swing the ball to another scorer.
There was nothing that the Knicks could do to stop Curry. Nothing at all, because he made every defense they threw at him look silly.
1. Carmelo Anthony Drops 62
Date: Jan. 24, 2014
Team: New York Knicks
Result: 125-96 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats
Stats: 62 points, 13 rebounds
Amazingly enough, only two of first nine featured spots were occupied by members of the New York organization. Players on the visiting team are just far more likely to put up historically excellent performances.
But the man who holds down the No. 1 spot was able to wear the white jersey of the home team when he scored 62 points.
Carmelo Anthony's scoring explosion broke Kobe Bryant's Madison Square Garden record by a single point, and it also moved him into the top spot on the Knicks' leaderboard.
After the game, Anthony spoke to MSG Network, as relayed by Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver:
I was just taking it one possession at a time. I came into the game locked in. I didn’t know I was going to have this type of performance. It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s just a zone you get into sometimes. Only a certain group of people know what that zone feels like. Tonight was one of those zones. My teammates saw that.
You can point to 'Melo's goose egg in the assist column, but I'll counter with three things:
- Anthony made a number of great passes that were turned into bricks by his teammates.
- Anthony also recorded 13 rebounds.
- Anthony didn't turn the ball over even once.
There have obviously been plenty of performances in which a player recorded zero turnovers. But only two players have ever gone into Madison Square Garden and done that while scoring at least 40 points. Allan Houston dropped 50 points in a game that should be considered an honorable mention.
'Melo scored 62 while taking great care of the ball.
And I've saved the most impressive part for last.
Anthony didn't even need to play for much of the fourth quarter because the Knicks were already that far ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats. Even with his tired legs, it's hard to imagine him falling short of 70 had he been able to remain in the game until the final buzzer.