1999 NBA Finals
San Antonio Spurs vs New York Knicks
This was the second year of the "Twin Towers" pairing of David Robinson and second year star forward Tim Duncan, who switched from his natural center position in college to power forward to play alongside Robinson in San Antonio; the two had been teammates since the Spurs drafted Duncan with the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft- a pick they earned through the draft lottery, due to a 62-loss 1996—97 season that saw Robinson suffer an injury very early in the season and the team collapse from there. As a result of the shaky start, veteran coach Bob Hill was fired and replaced by then-general manager Gregg Popovich. In the first season of the Duncan/Robinson tandem the Spurs won 56 games but were eliminated by the Utah Jazz in the second round of the playoffs. The following year, led by Robinson, Duncan, Sean Elliott, and Avery Johnson, the Spurs won 37 of their 50 games and qualified as the top seed in the Western Conference, as well as the league's best record.
The Knicks had a harder time getting to the playoffs than the Spurs did. Toward the end of the season, with the team teetering on the brink of making the playoffs, rumors had begun to spread in the New York media that head coach Jeff Van Gundy would lose his job before the end of the season if the team did not make the playoffs. Instead, New York fired general manager Ernie Grunfeld and allowed Van Gundy to lead the team to the playoffs, with the team barely qualifying as the #8 seed. They would face the Miami Heat, the top seed, in the first round.
Led by an injured Patrick Ewing and relying on contributions from Larry Johnson, Latrell Sprewell, and Allan Houston, as well as a newly acquired Marcus Camby, the Knicks were able to keep pace with the Heat and after Houston hit a shot with 0.8 seconds remaining in Game 5 of that series, the Knicks were victorious and became the second team in NBA history after the Denver Nuggets to win a playoff series as the #8 seed. The Nuggets were led by Dikembe Mutombo in that series, a center who now was playing for the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks' next opponent. Although the center from Zaire guaranteed a victory, the Knicks won in a four-game sweep to set up a matchup with the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Ewing could not continue due to an injury and was lost for the series after the first two games. In the third game, with 11.9 seconds left and the Knicks trailing 91—88, Johnson looked to attempt a three-point shot but was unable to shake the defender. He continued moving, however, and got off the shot while being fouled. He made the basket and converted the subsequent free-throw for a game-winning four-point play and gave his team a 2—1 lead in the series. In Game 6, however, Johnson suffered a knee injury and although the Knicks rallied around him to get the victory and the conference championship, it would prove costly as his playing time was limited in the Finals.