The Miami Heat came into Madison Square Garden as the hottest team in the NBA, riding a 13-game win streak. The New York Knicks, having won their previous two games were looking to make a statement and prove that their recent streaky play was only just an illusion. For half of the game, the Knicks looked and played like the team that could contend with the Heat for best in the East; for the other half, the Heat looked and played like they were in a category of their own.
The Knicks opened the first half playing their best basketball, perhaps, of 2013. They defend with aggression, trapping the Heat’s ball-handlers and blowing up pick-and-rolls with hard hedges; they collapsed on drivers, closed out hard on shooters, and forced the Heat into a bevy of turnovers and sloppy possessions. On offense, led by Carmelo Anthony repeatedly punishing whoever tried to defend him, the Knicks moved the ball crisply, inside and outside, setting up wide open looks from beyond the arc (a good portion of which were canned by a revitalized Jason Kidd), or clear paths to the rim. It was the most exciting, enjoyable half of basketball the Knicks had played in quite some time. They led by 14 at halftime.
And it would last for merely a half. The Heat, as the Knicks should have predicted, flipped the switch in the second half. LeBron James switched onto Carmelo Anthony and locked him up, denying Anthony any clean looks to the basket and effectively disallowing Anthony to thrive at the free throw line as he did in the first half. The Knicks swift ball movement faltered, and suddenly, all of the shots they’d made in the first half stopped falling. On the other end, the Heat pushed the ball to a tempo the Knicks just couldn’t keep up with. LeBron James prodded the Knicks’ defense, parting it on his way to the basket, or scrambling it with skip passes or drive-and-kicks to open shooters and cutters.
In the final two minutes, the game still within a basket, James attacked the basket hard for a lefty layup. After J.R. Smith squandered a possession with an ill-advised three-pointer, Miami got Chris Bosh and open shot at the top of the key, which he sank. Four-point game. On the next Knicks possession, Smith turned the ball over to a lurking James who went full steam ahead, and threw the ball down for a wide-open dunk. Ball-game.
Here’s a look at the individual performances for the Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony – 42 minutes, 32 points, 9-19 FG, 13-14 FT, 2 rebounds, 3 assists
Early on, ‘Melo had that look that he just wouldn’t be stopped. He canned his first four shot attempts, and bullied his way to the basket to live at the free throw line. 24 points on 8 shots in the opening half. However, LeBron James, Anthony’s clealry superior peer, locked Anthony up in the second half. Anthony scored just 8 points on 11 shots in the second half, and stood no chance of stopping James on offense. Not quite the heroic performance it looked to be at the onset.
Final Grade: B
Jason Kidd – 34 minutes, 14 points, 4-5 3FG, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals
Kidd snapped a two-month long drought in dramatic fashion. In the first half, Kidd stepped into and confident sank four three-pointers to ignite the Knicks’ offense and the Garden crowd. Though his offense didn’t sustain in the second half (who expected that it would?), Kidd continually made great plays on both ends, disrupting the Heat’s offense with steals and deflections, while making some great passes and collecting important rebounds. Unfortunately, 34 minutes in Pablo Prigioni’s stead may have very well pooped Kidd out by the end of the game.
Final Grade: A
J.R. Smith – 36 minutes, 13 points, 5-18 FG, 3-14 3FG, 12 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 TOs
His three 3-pointers all felt important. His 11 misses from beyond the arc were devastatingly crucial to the game’s outcome. His decision to ignore Carmelo Anthony, down two, with 1:30 remaining, and take and brick a pull-up 3-pointer was back-breaking. His telegraphed pass – which was picked off by James – on the Knicks’ final Hail-Mary possession was game-sealing. Cool 12 rebounds, though.
Final Grade: C-
Amar’e Stoudemire – 21 minutes, 12 points, 5-7 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 block
Stoudemire began the game in a really rough fashion – turning the ball over, getting stuffed under the hoop, and playing porous defense. However, as the game went on, Stoudemire smoothed himself out, occasionally playing nice help defense, and picking his spots on offense. His brief minutes as feature of the Knicks’ offense earned him back-to-back dunks. Count me in the group that is puzzled by Woodson’s substitution pattern with Stoudemire – every time Stoudemire gets in a groove, he gets yanked.
Final Grade: B-
Tyson Chandler – 34 minutes, 10 points, 4-7 FG, 8 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks
Smaller matchups – such as Chris Bosh – do not usually bode well for Chandler, but he held his own today. (Part of that is because Bosh kinda sucked for three quarters). Chandler seemed a little rushed on the court, often dropping passes on easy feeds, and sometimes helping a little too generously on defense, though for the most part, Chandler anchored the Knicks wonderfully on the end. The no-call block by James on Chandler’s layup attempt in the final minutes was a momentum-changer.
Final Grade: B
Raymond Felton – 31 minutes, 9 points, 3-8 FG, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 4 TOs
The thing where Felton tries to take over the Knicks’ offense in crucial moments of the game isn’t a good look. Down the stretch, Felton’s decision-making was mostly bad, as he failed to get Anthony in the ball, or evade the Heat’s traps on pick-and-rolls. This led to a little too much one-on-one play as Felton tried to take it to the basket and finish himself. As a whole, Felton spent most of the game taking a backseat to Jason Kidd’s command on offense, while doing a commendable job making Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole non-factors. Felton’s turnover off his foot in the final two minutes hurt pretty bad, too.
Final Grade: C
Iman Shumpert – 21 minutes, 3 points, 1-4 FG, 3 rebounds, 2 assists
Shumpert’s energy to begin the game was a huge spark. He deflected a good number of passes and dribbles, crashed the glass for rebounds, dove for loose balls, and was a blur up and down the court. Though it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, his effort was an intangible factor that led to the Knicks’ first half dominance. He faded in the second half, though, and hardly saw any court time, even with Smith misfiring pretty woefully.
Final Grade: C+
Steve Novak – 12 minutes, 0-3 FG, 2 rebounds, 1 assist
Novak’s releasing the ball too quickly, pulling down his follow-through too quickly, and thinking too much. For the most part, I’d rather Novak shoot over closing defenses, try and draw a foul, or pump fake, take two dribbles in, and pull up. For now, he remains a liability on the court.
Final Grade: D
James White – 8 minutes, 0-1 FG, 2 rebounds, 3 fouls, 2 TOs
James White started the game for Jason Kidd. He committed three fouls and a turnover in less than five minutes to open the game. In the second half, he air-balled his first and only shot attempt. This reminded me that I would give Oklahoma City their 2nd round draft pick back for Ronnie Brewer.