Pat Riley is one of the most successful people in basketball. He is the only person to ever win an NBA championship as a player, assistant, coach, and GM. He is famous for recruitment pitch when he lays out all the rings he won, saying to the player, “I know how to win, that’s what I do.”
All this success came with the Lakers and Heat, while his time with the Knicks was not as successful. He coached in New York from 1991 to 1995, and at that time, the Knicks lost in the conference semifinals, conference finals, NBA finals, and conference semifinals. They were marked in for the playoffs and contention but never made it all the way.
Their misfortune mostly revolved around being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The only way to get to the Finals was if Jordan retired (hence the NBA Finals in 1993/1994 season), so you can’t put it on Riley that the GOAT stopped his team. Charles Oakley who played for the Knicks at the time feels differently (via Players Tribune):
I think Phil Jackson played possum with Pat Riley every time he played the Bulls. He made Riley seem like he knew what he was doing. Seem like it! In every game, if you watch the game, watch the film, of the game we play against the Bulls, our second-half adjustments, we never adjust.
Hindsight is 20/20, so it is easy to be smart about it now. In ’92/’93, they took the Bulls to Game 7 in the Conference Finals. The following year they lost in six games against the Bulls. They never managed to overcome MJ Bulls, but it’s not like they were completely dominated. What would Oak do differently?
If I was playing the Bulls and I was the coach, I would never sub until they sub. We try to please guys, keep guys we know won’t go to war, that we had to play. It ain’t about giving guys minutes; it’s who you playing against. Sometimes you can get your minutes on teams that don’t have great chemistry or a great player like Michael Jordan. But when you play against the Bulls, it’s hard to make mistakes.
Oakley feels some guys got undeserving minutes, and that gave the Bulls an edge. If you look at the 92/’93 playoff series, the Bulls had six guys who played over 100 minutes, and those 6 played 1414 minutes total in the series. The Knicks, on the other hand, had eight guys playing over 100 minutes, and they totaled 1654 minutes on the floor. That is a significant difference in rotation depth and minute distribution.
I used to tell everybody when we playing the Bulls; we are already four points down. Most of the time, that’s what the game came down to, the last two or three possessions. We weren’t sound enough, and I blame Pat Riley a lot for that.
Oak feels as good as the Bulls were, the Knicks had a fighting chance and thought Pat was outcoached by Phil Jackson. It’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback; it would be helpful for Oak to sit in the booth with Kobe and give us some specific insight.
Maybe Pippen summarized it best at the end of this conversation by saying, “Don’t you all think we were just better the last five minutes?”