Great first half, gross second half.
Games like that make me wish the NBA didn't have a halftime. The Knicks looked more prepared and played more vigorously than the Heat did in the first half, particularly during the second quarter. Tyson Chandler and the rest of New York's defense switched and trapped pick-and-rolls deliberately, supplementing help defense with crisp back-line rotations to protect the rim and force turnovers. Carmelo Anthony not only got some shots to drop, but used aggressive first steps and clever fakes to draw fouls on guys like Udonis Haslem and Rashard Lewis. Melo's 24 points on eight shots (11-12 from the line) helped a lot. So, too, did Jason Kidd's sudden decision to match his entire three-point output from the last three weeks in the second quarter alone. Kidd-- self-dubbed "not a good shooter" at halftime-- erupted for four second-quarter threes, part of a terrific half and solid game overall. New York, at long last, looked something like their November selves, building yet another double-digit lead over Miami. As tkow's comment from the thread suggests, the early-season echoes faded considerably as the game progressed.
They had a halftime, as is customary. While the Knicks did and said lord knows what in the locker room, the Heat made adjustments. They aborted Melo's huge game by assigning LeBron James to guard him in most one-on-one situations. They stopped turning the ball over. They let LeBron handle things more and more (or at least it seemed that way), relying on him to produce open weak-side looks and his own share of preposterous makes. They got Chris Bosh involved moving to the rim.
The Knicks, for all their pre-game preparation, fell well short of Miami in terms of tweaking those plans at the half. Guarded now by LeBron and perhaps affected by a first-half blow to his arm/ribs, Melo struggled to find clean looks at the rim and no longer drew fouls from that pursuit. No Knick stepped up to support Melo the way Kidd had in the second quarter-- the familiar issue of ball movement generating great weak-side threes that just won't drop. One approach that did work for a stretch -- running lots of pick-and-roll with Melo, Amar'e Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler all on the floor-- disappeared in the fourth, apparently to match Miami's small lineups. Mike Woodson's decision to stagger Stoudemire and Chandler's late minutes and shelve Amar'e for most of the fourth looks poor in retrospect, as does his decision to give James White any second half minutes at all after his ineffective, foul-prone play in the first half.
Down the stretch, the ball failed to find Melo entirely while J.R. Smith farted away some important possessions. Smith made a huge impact on the glass with his 11 rebounds, but let LeBron sneak backdoor a few too many times and damn near laid a pterodactyl egg from the field with that 3-14 three-point shooting.
In short, all the things the Knicks had going in the first half abandoned them at the break, and unlike Miami, they failed to get new things going. Given recent events, I'm somewhat pleased the Knicks made a game out of today's match-up. Alas, New York looked poised to make more than a game-- a win, even a big win-- out of this one, but shrunk when the play got more complex. So, it's an L on the schedule, but it could have been a lot worse. I see wildly varying levels of encouragement following such an outcome, which I think sums up where the Knicks stand right now. It's hard to know quite what to make of this team at this point. No time to navel-gaze, though. On to Cleveland they go for another match-up with the highly terrifying Kyrie Irving.