NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Carmelo Anthony was a rookie. Chauncey Billups was the MVP of the NBA finals.
That was way back in 2004, and one of the few constants in the NBA since then had been the Knicks missing the playoffs.
The drought is over.
The Knicks clinched a spot Sunday night with a 123-107 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers behind 28 points from Amar'e Stoudemire, who with Anthony and Billups gives New York its own version of a Big Three for big-game basketball's return to Madison Square Garden.
"That was the goal we set at the start of the season. The plan was to make the playoffs," Stoudemire said. "It's mission accomplished and now on to the next one."
Shortly after Charlotte's home loss to Washington, the Knicks snapped an 11-game losing streak against the Cavaliers to secure their spot. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference, but closed within 1½ games of the 76ers, with a game in Philadelphia this week.
"We knew that this was a game that we needed to get," Billups said. "This team had dominated us the whole season, that team is actually playing a lot better than their record looks like and this is probably the one team that can come in and say that they can beat, because three times they beat us before. So we knew that this was a big game for us."
LISTEN: Mike D'Antoni on New York's return to the playoffs
Anthony scored 25 points and Billups added 23 for New York, which was tied with Minnesota for the NBA's longest playoff absence. The Knicks evened their record at 38-38 as they try to end an even longer drought, a franchise-worst stretch of nine straight losing seasons.
Stoudemire proclaimed the Knicks were back even before officially signing in July, and snapped out of a recent slump in time to ensure the return of playoff basketball to Madison Square Garden.
New York hasn't seen the postseason since it was swept in four games by New Jersey in 2004. The Knicks will likely face either Miami or Boston, hoping Stoudemire, Anthony and Billups can match whichever Big Three they draw.
Anthony has been in the playoffs every season of his career, so couldn't imagine something like Knicks fans have experienced.
"I think everybody should be excited that Knicks basketball is back, that the standards are higher now and every year this is something we should be looking forward to, which is making the playoffs."
Will the Knicks make a deep run or will they be one-and-done? Make your prediction in the comments below...
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