Charles Oakley says Patrick Ewing’s inability to step up more in the 1993 playoff war versus the Bulls and Michael Jordan cost the Knicks a trip to The Finals — not Charles Smith.
Oakley, the former Bulls and Knicks defensive enforcer, has watched “The Last Dance” series that picked up Sunday with a focus on the Bulls-Knicks vicious rivalry of the early 1990s.
Spotlighted was their epic Eastern Conference Finals series in 1993 that the Bulls won in six games after the Knicks took a 2-0 lead. Jordan averaged 32.2 points in the series, during which he got roasted for taking a side trip to Atlantic City to gamble after Game 1.
Oakley says he still talks to Jordan, his former teammate, about the series. The former Knicks power forward won’t pin it on Smith, who blew all those last-second putbacks in the critical Game 5 heartbreaker, which would have given the Knicks a 3-2 series lead as they tried to keep the Bulls from their first three-peat.
“Patrick, at the end of the game, he’d get double-teamed,’’ Oakley told The Post. “He’d shoot fadeaways on double-teams and that hurt us as a team.”
“My thing with [Jordan] is, ‘It’s not like you beat us by 20,’ ” Oakley added. “Most games went down to two, three possessions. Y’all made shots. We didn’t. The best player won. Michael was a better player than Patrick hands down.”
Ewing averaged 25.8 points and 11.2 points and shot 53 percent in the six game series — all in line with his regular-season numbers. Oakley averaged 8.7 points and 10.8 rebounds and shot 44 percent in the series, also close to his regular-season numbers. In the series-turning Game 5, Ewing had 33 points on 12-of-23 shooting and nine rebounds while Oakley was limited to six points on 2-of-6 shooting and four rebounds.
In the documentary, Ewing says, “It was extremely physical. It wasn’t really a foul until you drew blood.”
Asked about the remark, Oakley sniffed, “A lot of guys who talk now didn’t say that stuff when they played basketball.’’
Oakley, then in his defensive prime, also believed Phil Jackson outmaneuvered then-Knicks coach Pat Riley.
“Pat Riley never adjusted to the situation,’’ Oakley said. “At halftime we did the same thing. They trapped us full-court. We never did nothing like that to trap them and make them think about the game.
“We didn’t make shots and played into their hands. With defense, they played a zone and built a wall. They knew Patrick wasn’t going to pass out of the double team. Phil watched a lot of film. We watched a lot of film, but we were playing checkers and they were playing chess.”
During the broadcast, it’s mentioned the Knicks were similar in style to “The Bad Boys’’ of Detroit, which used to batter Jordan’s Bulls before they finally broke through.
“Everyone says Detroit was more physical,’’ Oakley said. “I don t think so. Detroit just played more dirty than us. We didn’t play dirty basketball.’’
Jeff Van Gundy, then a Knicks assistant to Riley, told The Post the 1993 team was the best team he’d ever been part of. The Knicks won 60 games that season and Riley told “Garden Glory” the Knicks had built “a championship team.’’
It’s why Oakley is still frustrated it didn’t go the Knicks’ way.
“We should’ve beaten them and we didn’t beat them,’’ Oakley said. “The Bulls got a lot of calls. I tell that to Michael to this day. The league’s best player will get all the calls when he needed to. But Michael made shots. It wasn’t like he was getting to the rim and dunking on us. He had a couple of dunks. But that was only two dunks he had in the half-court offense.
“I took the ball from Michael in that series and they called a foul and I didn’t even touch him,” Oakley added. “The one thing I didn’t like about Phil’s Bulls is they complained about the officials, about physicality. We were playing hard. If you complained to me, you’re soft.
“Phil Jackson always planted stories in the paper when they lost: ‘Look at the fouls.’ Pat Riley was a psychologist, but Phil was the doctor. They played mind games with one another.”
Jordan’s trek to Atlantic City after a Game 1 Bulls’ loss turned into a firestorm. But ultimately it motivated Jordan.
“When you’re off, you can do whatever you want to do,’’ Oakley said. “Danny Ainge said [he and Jordan] played golf 36 holes before a playoff game. I never thought he’d do that, but he’s incredible. When things go your way, you can take a chance of doing things. A lot of guys can’t do that. They don’t have that drive. Patrick would never do it like that — because he doesn’t have it inside of him.”
Ewing was fourth in the MVP voting in 1993, but in recent months Oakley has aimed darts at “The Big Fella” as much as feuding partner James Dolan, the Knicks owner. Oakley recently called Ewing “one of the most difficult guys I’ve played with.’’
As for failing to topple the Bulls in 1993, Oakley put it simply in his inimitable way.
“The Bulls had Michael and we had Patrick,’’ Oakley said. “It’s like seeing Beyoncé and going to see someone trying to be Beyoncé. If Beyoncé is in town, everyone’s going to see Beyoncé. If Michael and Patrick are in town, everyone is going to see Michael. They had ‘The Show.’ We tried to stop them and we couldn’t stop them.”
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