May 09, 2024

Thrill of Knicks, Rangers Playoff Runs a Much-Needed Salve for New York City

Thrill of Knicks, Rangers Playoff Runs a Much-Needed Salve for New York City

‘Sports can be an outlet in its best form,’ Bruce Beck, a broadcast legend, says of the frenzy at Madison Square Garden.

Bruce Beck has covered sports in New York City for 40 years, the last 27 as a broadcaster for NBC, and he is exhausted.

For the last four weeks, he has bounced between the Knicks and the Rangers, covering both teams in their respective playoffs, which has conjured memories of 1994 — when the Knicks reached the NBA Finals and the Rangers last won the Stanley Cup.

“It’s magical,” Mr. Beck told the Sun. “I don’t remember anything like this since ’94, when we had games every night and the two teams going to their respective finals and the Rangers winning the Cup. Madison Square Garden has been the place to be.”

Mr. Beck’s voice is hoarse after four straight nights of playoff games at the Garden, where the Rangers opened a best-of-seven series against the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Knicks played the first two games of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal against the Indiana Pacers.

The Rangers won games on Sunday and Tuesday and were set to play Game 3 in Raleigh, N.C., on Thursday night. The Knicks travel to Indiana for Game 3 on Friday night, leading their series 2-0 after beating the Pacers Monday and Wednesday at the Garden. All four games were played in front of frenzied, sold-out crowds of celebrities, long-time fans, and those not born before the franchise’s last championship in 1973.

“Right now there’s a feeling that the teams are going to win,” Mr. Beck said. “For many years during the playoffs, it was, ‘Let’s wait and see what happens.’ Now the fans are expecting to win the way the players and team are expecting to win. There’s just a spirit and vitality in the building. It’s energizing. But it’s exhausting.”

After each game, fans have spilled outside the Garden for spontaneous celebrations, scenes far different than the divisiveness that has haunted the city of late. Between the ravages of Covid-19, the college protests, migrant and homelessness issues, and escalating violence, New York has been through a lot. The Knicks and Rangers are providing a much-needed distraction.

“Sports can be an outlet in its best form,” Mr. Beck said. “Right now you’re seeing that energy in a positive way. It’s a reminder that the city endures. The city is resilient and bounces back. This gives fans a positive opportunity to express a little joy in their lives.”

Mr. Beck is among those bracing for a long and hectic postseason. For home games, he arrives at the Garden by 3:30 p.m. for a 4 p.m. show outside of the arena. He works inside for broadcasts at 5, 6, and 11 p.m. It’s not easy keeping track of two playoff teams in different sports. He’s already had to take a cab back to the Garden from his office because he forgot where he parked his car.

“You go from one sport to the next each day,” he said. “It’s a balancing act. I have my notes on the floor that I switch into the briefcase each day. Each game is an event, and I’m trying to get the games right. It’s a bit of an endurance contest.”

It helps that both teams are real contenders. The Garden erupted Wednesday night when star guard Jalen Brunson returned to the floor at halftime after leaving with a foot injury late in the first quarter. It was reminiscent of 54 years ago, when Willis Reed limped out of the tunnel just before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals. The Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers for the championship that day. The inspired Knicks Wednesday night rallied from a 73-63 deficit at halftime to win a game where the Pacers coach, Rick Carlisle, was ejected for arguing with the officials.

Mr. Brunson scored 24 of his 29 points in the second half, while OG Anunoby and Donte DiVincenzo each had 28 points for the Knicks, who enter Game 3 with injury concerns. Mr. Anunoby left Game 2 with a hamstring injury and the severity of Mr. Brunson’s foot injury is uncertain. In addition, center Mitchell Robinson will miss this series and the next, if there is one, with an ankle injury. Forward Bojan Bogdanovic and a two-time All-Star, Julius Randle, are out for the remainder of the season. Despite the injuries, the Knicks remain confident.

“We’re just sticking together no matter what,” Mr. Brunson said. “No matter what the situation is, no matter what’s thrown at us, no matter what’s a disadvantage for us, we’re going to stick together. That’s the thing we always harp on.”

The Pacers complained about the officiating in Games 1 and 2, with Mr. Carlisle saying, “Small-market teams deserve an equal shot, no matter where they’re playing.”

He hopes to get some home cooking in Indiana. “We’re looking forward to getting back home,” he said. “Give their crowd a lot of credit, it’s among the best atmospheres you’ll play on the road. But we’ve got to do some things better.”

The Rangers are riding the momentum of Vincent Trocheck’s power-play goal in double overtime on Tuesday that gave New York a 4-3 win and was about as thrilling as playoff hockey can get. The Rangers were after their seventh straight playoff win Thursday night.

“The winning makes the whole pandemonium even greater,” Mr. Beck said.

The Knicks and Rangers, a combined 12-2 overall and 8-1 at home during the playoffs, maintain home advantage regardless of what happens in Games 3 and 4 on the road. The Garden awaits if needed.

This article originally appeared in The Sun