Erik Spoelstra's Heat (No, not "HEAT". Never "HEAT") made a conscious effort to stop Amar'e Stoudemire in tonight's game. They brought help on nearly every Amar'e isolation play and pick and roll, and challenged the Knicks to find the open man and connect from the perimeter. In the first half, Danilo Gallinari and friends cashed in on at that challenge, shooting themselves out of an early 13-point hole to tie the game at halftime. In the second half, the shots stopped falling and the Heat took over. As mrumack said in the game thread, it was like there was a lid on the rim.
Take the jump for my game notes.
- In the first half, this looked like it'd be every bit as enthralling as Knicks-Celtics. The Garden was buzzing. A Jonas brother was in attendance. Walt Frazier said he had "chillbumps"*. Both teams sprinted to start, and the pace was almost comically fast in the early going. (Naturally, this was another night in which one of Clyde's keys to the game was to "make it wild".) The Knicks pushed indiscriminately and got ahead in transition for some wide open looks and spectacular finishes. Danilo Gallinari, sporting some hair gel for the occasion, led the way from outside and in, finishing with 21 points in the half. Toward the end of the first quarter, LeBron James almost single-handedly blew the game open by drilling long twos and feeding open shooters, but a spirited run in the mid-second brought the Knicks back into it.
- *Not goosebumps. Goosebumps are for geese. Chillbumps are for chillbros.
- The undisputed highlight of the aforementioned run:
THAT is a dunk, and I don't think he traveled, either. Hell of a touch pass by Landry Fields, too.
- Those long twos by LeBron James were downright deadly this evening. Something about the MSG atmosphere hones James's outside stroke, and he was ripping nets over pretty commendable Knick defense. Clyde suggested that the Knicks double James, but I don't think that would have made much difference, especially considering his ability to fire laser-passes over multiple defenders. More dogged ball denial might have helped, but then he'd just beat the Knicks backdoor and get easy looks going to the rim. When James is on fire like that, it's best to just stand your ground, get a hand up, and pray. Peeing on him may or may not help.
- After Gallo and company shot the Knicks into first half contention, things fell apart by Chinua Achebe in the second half. Perhaps frustrated with their first half ineffectiveness, Felton and Stoudemire reallllly forced the action to open the third quarter. The pick-and-roll was in mid-November form, with three or four defenders collapsing to stop the roll, but the co-captains desperately trying to make something happen anyway. Amar'e took some positively unseemly attempts, Felton couldn't find his own shot, and neither could get a foul call. Both had done a stellar job of passing out of traps in the first half, but they couldn't find open shooters later on. Miami probably stepped up their rotations as well, and the Knicks shot just 1-4 from downtown in the third period while Amar'e and Felton repeatedly ran into dead ends.
- Often, that dead end was Joel Anthony. Joel "Dead End" Anthony has a nice ring to it, and I think the nickname captures both Joel's defensive prowess and his...um..."look".
- One thing that the Heat help defenders realized is that Stoudemire doesn't do a great job of protecting the ball when he gathers near the rim. On more than one occasion, Amar'e was stripped while launching for a dunk, realizing in mid-air that he'd departed sans ball. That's kind of like the dominant NBA big man version of the familiar "in front of a crowd while pantless" nightmare.
- It should be noted that Raymond Felton's hand (I don't remember which hand, so we'll go with "reft") was heavily wrapped after his hard fall at the end of Wednesday's game. That doesn't explain some of his poor decision-making, but it might serve as a partial excuse for his 3-12 shooting.
- I'm back home for Christmas break, which means I'm watching games (or at least the early parts of games) with my mom. Her contributions for the evening: 1. Zydrunas Ilgauskas looks like "that evil Ralph Fiennes character from the Harry Potter movies" and 2. Landry Fields has good posture. Agreed on both counts.
- A bumbling attempt at halftime to tally up the Big Three's combined point totals leads me to believe that mental arithmetic is not Al Trautwig's strong suit. It's cool. You can't have an incredibly soothing voice AND number-crunching skillz. That wouldn't be fair.
- I'm sure this has been said before, but the Miami center platoon of Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony, Jamaal Magloire and Erick Dampier would make an excellent law firm and/or morning talk show. That's also a deceptively Canadian foursome, in that Jamaal and Joel are both from Canada, Zydrunas is rather pale, and Erick loves Barenaked Ladies.
- 13-23 from the free throw line. That won't work.
- Amar'e Stoudemire was mic'd up for the evening's festivities, and proved to be a D'Antoni disciple in that all he ever did was clap his hands and shout "LET'S GO! LET'S GO! LET'S GO!".
- The Heat ran a lot of baseline screens for Chris Bosh, and he'd make quick little cuts to the rim for easy catches and point-blank buckets. On more than one occasion, he'd even add a foul when Wilson Chandler was overzealous recovering from the screen. Do the Knicks run plays like that for Amar'e? I can't remember seeing much of that, but I'm also really oblivious all the time.
- The Knick bench has devolved into nothingness. Toney Douglas is the lone serious contributor, and he continues to frighten us with the ball in his hands (although, to be fair, he was 3-6 with no turnovers tonight). Ronny Turiaf is no longer effective (somebody made the good point that Ronny looked a lot better when Felton and Stoudemire weren't yet clicking), neither Shawne Williams nor Bill Walker is filling the role of bench gunner, and Timofey Mozgov has been relegated to garbage minutes. Watching the first unit curl up and die in the third quarter, I became particularly worried about the short rotation.
- Mario Chalmers = "Mario CHARM-ers". <3 Clyde. Oddly enough, I don't remember him saying "Barsh".
- Update: Forgot to include this, but Miami has kind of a habit of turning it on in the second half.
That'll be it. The Heat are better than the Knicks right now, especially when LeBron James is afire and New York punts an entire half. These teams meet again after Christmas, and I expect a better match-up in Miami.
In the meantime, the Knicks will have to rebound from this one immediately. They head to Cleveland tomorrow, where they'll have one of their few opportunities to win against a sub-.500 team over the next couple of weeks. That could be a shot to get back on track or an evil, evil trap game.