Man, man, man. That first quarter, indeed. Most of the first half of tonight's 106-98 loss to the Heat was ugly, but like heino vanderjuice reminded us, it was really that opening frame that hampered the Knicks beyond repair. On one end, the Knicks failed to mount an early attack, settling for just 2-8 outside shooting with zero trips to the free throw line. The Heat smothered the pick-and-roll, and the Knicks just couldn't make them pay for packing the paint. On the other end, New York played a zombie-like defense, with multiple defenders transfixed by the ballhandler and losing track of their own marks. This allowed clear slips to the rim for Dwyane Wade to finish or draw contact and Zydrunas Ilgauskas to snatch easy put-backs. The rebounding issue stood at the forefront. Miami dominated both backboards, ending the quarter with a 17-6 edge on the glass (Ilgauskas alone grabbed 9). After the Heat lead swelled to 22, the Knicks took a bite out the deficit with a 13-4 run before half.
After the break, New York made a more concerted effort to diversify their attack, mostly scrapping the pick-and-roll for increased ball movement and drives to the rim. They struggled to stop Chris Bosh in the third, but got a lift from Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler in the fourth to cut it as close as 3. Some missed free throws and Wade/Lebron James heroics iced the game for Miami, but it was that dismal start that really doomed the Knicks. In a way, tonight's contest was the inverse of the December 17th matchup between these two teams, with New York trading a competent first half for a competitive second. Ultimately, they avoided the blowout and gave Miami a legitimate scare, so, you know...that's progress.
Amar'e Stoudemire was frustrated all evening, but led the Knicks with 30 points. Wade dropped 40 for the Heat, including a bayonet of a three-pointer in crunch time (Daggers are played out. It's time for a new blade).
Jump for a few more notes.
- Maybe I wasn't clear with the zombie metaphor in the opening. It just looked to me like all five Knicks got hypnotized by the path of the ball, and they'd all just stagger toward whoever had possession, leaving space for other Heatsmen to roam and not doubling forcefully enough to hide those open men. That's kinda zombie-like, no? I don't watch enough zombie things to draw that comparison with much confidence. They frighten me.
- Seriously, though...Zydrunas Ilgauskas. In just 14 minutes, that giant pale mummy managed to register a double-double without ever breaking a sweat. He just waited for one of the
Big Three Miami Thrice Three Agents to make a move, puttered over to the rim when the Knicks wildly over-committed, and quietly gathered offensive rebounds. It may not have been the quickest double-double of all time (it must have been close), but it has to have been the easiest.
- Clyde, regarding the above: "It's an Ilgauskas...thon".
- Miami scored at least a free throw on every one of their possessions immediately following a timeout.
- We gave the Knicks a lot of grief-- and rightfully so-- for their three-point chucking (particularly early in the game) but it's worth remembering that that's exactly how they beat Oklahoma City and Chicago. When they work from the pick-and-roll and face a crowded paint, those long bombs are the most available alternative. When the threes don't fall, shit looks pretty grimy. Credit the Heat guards with running some pretty menacing close-outs. Plenty of the Knicks' outside looks were makeable, but they appeared a bit shook in the face of a fast-recovering Miami defense.
- While LeBron James dominated the first game and Wade owned this one, Chris Bosh was the most consistent between the two. Both times, he got a lot of touches against Wilson Chandler and Shawne Williams, and both times he scored effortlessly over the D-minutive D-fenders. Both times, he looked like a stupid poopface jerk while doing so.
- There were a lot of technical fouls called in this one, as Steve Javie kind of acted like a school librarian. The refereeing was troublesome for much of the night. It seemed like the Knicks got hosed early, but as is often the case, it ended up being a two-way hosing. Yeah, that sounds like a euphemism of some sort.
- Part of the problem last time was that the bench scored only 12 points and the Knicks missed 10 free throws. This time, the bench scored 16 points and the Knicks missed 9 free throws. Baby steps, but still bad.
- Toney Douglas was really the only benchbro to contribute, but he also made a heap of errors on both ends. I don't know if that shoulder soreness comes and goes or what, but his offensive approach oscillates between confident and spastic. We saw some pretty unsightly misses this evening, not to mention 2 turnovers to only 1 assist.
- Stoudemire and Raymond Felton ran the pick-and-roll some (as mentioned, less so in the second half, or at least that was my impression), but encountered major roadblocks. Felton's inability to pass over some mean Miami hedging necessitated that he bail out to the perimeter or miss his Amar'e-window and reset. Stoudemire, meanwhile, was a bit too deliberate in his movements, and often found Joel Anthony well established in his path. Somehow, Amar'e turned the ball over only once. He did miss 13 of his 23 shots, though. Gian will have more on the pick-and-roll tomorrow.
- One effect of Miami's solid pick-and-roll D is that the Knicks couldn't get as many early attempts (you know, "Fewer Than 7 Seconds", or whatever it's called) as they would have liked. The game featured 94 possessions, which is below New York's typical preferred pace of 98.7 (if that's not a meaningful difference, just tell me to shut my stoopid mouf. I dabble in stats with much trepidation.)
- I don't know why Danilo Gallinari waited until the fourth quarter to assert himself, but the Knicks really could've used his help sooner.
- Let it not be forgotten that the Knicks had some legitimate highlights in this one. Felton threw a 40-foot alley-oop to Wilson Chandler immediately after rolling his ankle (:40 in this video) and Amar'e posterized LeBron James something fierce.
- In attendance were Sean Penn and Iggy Pop, or perhaps the potential cast of the strangest buddy cop movie possible.
- "In the Air Tonight" would be a cool intro song if they didn't cut the build-up short. Playing just a few seconds of the drum machine section before the heavy percussion comes, like, totally robs the song of its drama, bro. (But really.)
- I realized tonight that in that Kia commercial with the anthropomorphic hamsters and the Black Sheep song, one of the critters is ACTUALLY RAPPING. As if that ad wasn't creepy enough. (Also, if you've never noticed, the street sign in the commercial says "HAMSTERDAM". Kia apparently supports the sanctioning of an open-air drug trade).
I don't know, y'all. I can't say I didn't sweat when it got close, but for some reason, this one never really felt winnable to me. That said, credit with the Knicks with mounting a succession of runs (a marked departure from the '09-'10 squad that would make one run and die) and really making Miami work for their win. The Heat possess both elite talent and a remarkable level of scrappiness, so giving them a scare is commendable. That the Knicks made a game out of this while shooting just over 40% and hitting only seven threes means they can, at the very least, hang with the contenders. We're still waiting on this team to grab that next rung and beat a contender, though. One of these days, they'll get the moral victory AND the boxscore victory. Could Thursday in Orlando be that day?