What If Ewing Played?


Living out here in NYC, I love to rub in the faces of Knicks fans about the Spurs beating the Knicks for the 1999 NBA title.  The big excuse from them is “Ewing didn’t play.” But what if Ewing did play in 1999? Would it have been different?  Could the Spurs have been in a bigger fight or actually lose the series?

This month marks the 10th Anniversary of the Spurs first NBA title. Jeff and Mike will take off the “homer glasses” and get the viewpoint of Project Spurs Contributor and NY Knicks fan, Theo Harris, as we answer the question “What if Ewing played?”

Jeff:  The series goes 6 games with the Spurs winning the title.  The “Twin Towers” of Robinson and Duncan would have been matched up with NY’s own of Ewing and Camby.  This would have been ideal for the Knicks with two 7-footers in the paint to contain Robinson and Duncan.  Ewing would have defended Robinson and Camby would try his best to guard Duncan.  The Ewing-Robinson match up would have been wash on the offensive and defensive side.  However the Knicks would have countered with Dudley (who was starting in Ewing’s absense), Kurt Thomas and Larry Johnson to swarm Duncan.  Foul trouble on the Spurs bigs would have been key for the Knicks because the Spurs didn’t have quality big men off the bench — Jerome Kersey and Will Perdue.  If either Robinson or Duncan got in foul trouble, it would have exposed the Spurs lack of depth for big men leaving Camby, Kurt Thomas and Larry Johnson somewhat freedom to abuse the Spurs in the paint.

Theo:  Considering where Ewing was in the point of his career, the Knicks would have still lost the series.  That being said, he was still the best big man on the Knicks roster.  His mobility was dimished but his pride would have carried him throughout the Finals.  Ewing would’ve scored and play the “pick and pop” freeing him for a mid-range shot which would have been havoc for the Spurs defense.   The Knicks had the advantage at the guard position with Sprewell and Houston but with Ewing’s presence, that would have caused even more headaches for the Spurs defenders, lessened the Spurs advantage in the paint, and reduced Duncan’s and Robinson’s impact on the series.  Also if Ewing did play in the 1999 NBA Finals it would have greatly helped Camby allowing him to not guard Duncan and turned him into a help defender using his length, energy and would have challenge Duncan’s shot around the paint.  In other words, Ewing would have been to Camby what Robinson was to Duncan.  With that, there was no way the Spurs would have beaten the Knicks twice in the Garden.  In the end I say Spurs still win the Finals but in 6 or 7 games.

Michael:  Whether or not Ewing played in the series, he had only played in 38 games that year. We can sit here and think about the possibilities of pitting a prime Ewing vs. Robinson in that series, but the facts were Ewing, even if he wasn’t injured, would have still been hobbled, playing on busted knees and he was starting the downturn of his career,
While Robinson was no spring chicken, he was much healthier and in better shape. While his stats took a negative turn that year, that was more related to Robinson giving Tim Duncan the keys to the franchise.
With all that considered, I give Robinson a bit of an advantage over Ewing and I still give the Spurs the series in seven games. The Spurs may have dealt with the Knicks in 5 games, but there’s no denying the Knicks were hot. Their guard corps of Houston and Sprewell gave our perimeter defenders fits and Duncan gave the entire Knicks club headaches, and that wouldn’t have changed with Ewing involved.
To sum it up, both teams were very hard to contend with on their home courts and with the Finals being a 2-3-2 series, I’d have it ending with the Spurs pouring champagne in San Antonio after game seven.

As you can see, even a Knicks fan can’t see a Knicks parade in NYC.  The Spurs most likely would have still won the title even with Ewing playing.  However it would have been great to see two Hall Of Fame Centers battle for their first title.  Those are out thoughts, what are yours?