MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 23: Norris Cole #30 of the Miami Heat guards Jeremy Lin #17 of the New York Knicks during a game at American Airlines Arena on February 23, 2012 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Well, after all the hype that got built up heading into that game, it was a bit of a letdown to see the Knicks pretty handily defeated by the Heat. It probably shouldn't have been, though. As, uh, hardgay said in the game thread, the Heat played some of the best defense you, I, and Jeremy Lin have ever seen tonight. They jammed a rod into the gears of New York's pick-and-roll, stretching to force Lin into uncomfortable spots, then snapping furiously back into position to cut off passing lanes and stop inside attempts. It was a sight to behold and, I'd imagine, a bitch to oppose. New York shot just 39 percent and turned the ball over fifteen times in the first half, including six apiece for Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire. That's not recommended. Throughout that first half, though, New York managed to overcome and keep it close-- even taking the lead in the second quarter-- by getting offensive rebounds and hitting their threes (praise be to Steve Novak).
New York's defense was also key to their keeping it close in the first half, but they did benefit somewhat from inside misses and poor perimeter shooting by the Heat. In the second half, that ended. New York still managed to force turnovers (and took much better care of the ball themselves), but Miami, even in the face of decent hand-up defense, began to hit jumpers and pushed their lead to double digits. The Knicks, to their credit, never let the game get waaaay out of hand, but there wasn't much doubt left by the fourth quarter. The Heat are a better team than the Knicks right now, which really shouldn't cause too much shock and dismay.
Take the jump for a bit more.
- The Heat shut down Jeremy Lin. Completely handcuffed him. Even when they didn't have him in their grasp, the sheer threat they posed drove to Lin make some decisions we're not used to seeing from him. To begin with, Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole each attacked his right hand and scuttled around vigorously to nag his dribbles. When Tyson Chandler came to set a pick and scrape the opposing guard off Lin, Joel Anthony went commando, poaching Lin's dribble for a moment, then rocketing into the passing lane or, if the lane was already established, sliding beneath the roller or darting toward the basket to cut off the inside shot attempt (and yes, he did all this without wearing underpants). Lin still tried to attack in the first half, which is most of the reason he had so many turnovers. As the game progressed, though, he got understandably tentative. He picked up his dribble at the slightest bit of pressure and, when driving, often looked to attempt tough shots instead of testing those passing lanes that had previously been barricaded. To be fair to Jeremy, the 1-11 was partially composed of unfriendly rims on sharp attempts. Others, of course, were just bad looks. The point is, the Heat defended Lin near-perfectly. Their guards clung to him like gnats and their bigs mixed things up-- hounding him, poaching his lanes, and stuffing his teammates at the rim.
- Lin's back-up, Baron Davis, faced somewhat diminished pressure, but with the benefit of strength and experience, kept his dribble a bit better and got inside. But still, he was met at the rim and forced to make tough passes and attempt tough shots. He went 0-7 and did not score. The Heat are good at defense.
- The only Knick to get much going against that defense was Carmelo Anthony, and even he struggled. Melo still hadn't really found his jumper in his third game back from injury, but had some success just isolating and putting the ball on the floor when the pick-and-roll was stuck. He finished some, drew some contact, and hung around for second opportunities on others. Still, though, just 7-20 for 19 points.
- Amar'e Stoudemire was quiet, which was a shame, because he actually showed a tiny bit of life on offense. After just kind of coughing up the ball in traffic a few times, Amar'e canned himself a jumper, finished a little righty hook in the paint, and blew by Chris Bosh for a baseline dunk (which made me unreasonably happy). He still struggled, though, and the Heat closed him off quite nicely (just seven attempts!). Defensively, Amar'e didn't have to work too much, but I was happy to see him pick a couple of lazy passes.
- Tyson Chandler didn't really get to be a factor on offense (a decent chunk of his 4-7 shooting came in the late fourth) because of the stuff mentioned in the Lin bullet point and he had quite a bit of trouble against Chris Bosh's lefty/outside attack.
- J.R. Smith played some pretty terrific defense on LeBron James in the first half (not so much on Wade in the second half) and was one of the few Knicks to successfully create shots for himself. Those shots were hanging, twisting floaters in the lane, but he got a few of 'em to drop.
- Steve Novak broke his every-other-game trend and hit four of five three-pointers. When the Knicks momentarily looked like they had a shot of winning the game, it was in the second quarter when Novak caught fire from downtown.
- Jared Jeffries made some nice extra passes and second efforts on offense (and hit a jumper!), and I don't specifically remember him getting burned on defense, so there's that.
- If there's one thing I don't like about the Knicks being a decent team, it's having to watch them on national TV. I do not like it. Not one bit.
And that's all the Knicks. The Heat are really, really good, y'all, and you can't really compete with them if you make a lot of mistakes. The Knicks couldn't hold on to the ball when the Heat were cold in the first half, then couldn't stop Miami's jumpers and second attempts when they'd finally got the turnovers controlled in the second half. It was disappointing, but not exactly a surprise from a team in New York's situation facing a team as dominant as the Heat are. The Knicks will face the Heat again in April, and they'll have plenty of time between now and then to build a crisper, more adaptable pick-and-roll and get healthy, comfortable, and confident on both ends of the floor. For now...All-Star Break!