We've seen Carmelo Anthony cook soup. We've seen him pour bucket upon baffling bucket over helpless opponents. Never in a Knick uniform, though, has Melo spent an entire game so completely in line with the basket, as if each motion and surface of his body lay parallel on a swooping rim-ward arc. A shot chart shows you the undeviating distance from which Melo scored, but I wish we could see his baskets charted in three dimensions. All those makes would form a nice paraboloid, like half a dome with no door, Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem trapped inside and Melo squiggle-dancing around its perimeter. Watching him vex Battier was particularly satisfying. Early on, the Heat just played neglectful defense. Once Battier got the assignment, he demonstrated with smug persistence how hard he'd prepared. No matter. When the Knicks failed to circumvent Battier's fronting, Melo simply fronted the front, scooting farther from the basket to catch and sling another rainbow through the net while Battier fumed and tore up his study guide. It was an unadulterated vault of jumpers, unshakeable by any defense and incomparable in its purity and consistency to anything Melo's done as a Knick (though the Nigeria game did feel similar).
Through the first half, that felt like all New York had going. No Knick-- not the streaking J.R. Smith or the impertinent Raymond Felton-- could evade Miami's pick-and-roll traps, leaving the return'd Tyson Chandler largely unfed. The Knicks took threes or they turned to Melo on offense. On defense, they just floundered. Creepy dudes, old dudes, and creepy old dudes staggered past New York's guards with ease, rarely meeting an extra obstacle as Chandler and Kenyon Martin roamed. And man, that roaming. Perhaps the Knicks game-planned as if LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were going to play and, instead of wasting all that practice, just decided to treat the likes of Rashard Lewis and Norris Cole as their surrogates. They sent help defense not only at Chris Bosh (questionable in its own right, given the men assigned to him) but at every other simpering dork in a Heat uniform. Two interconnected problems with that: 1. Every last Heatbro (Degree) knows how to pass out of a double team. Especially without their stars, they are offensive automata. They arrange themselves in consistent, predictable formations such that passes can be issued blindly toward a set of coordinates. You could see it when Battier tossed a swing pass straight out of bounds when unaware Ray Allen had twisted an ankle and fallen. It didn't compute. 2. The Knicks, as they sometimes do, doubled carelessly and without fair warning to the men expected to cover the inevitable chain of swing passes. Add all that up and you get Mike Miller expectorating 18 first half points to go with all the driving baskets by his creepy friends. The Knicks squandered Melo's gift of unlimited rainbows with shit first-half defense.
But then they fixed things in the second half. While Melo stayed scoring, New York cut out some of the nonsense, supplanting all that extraneous wandering with good, aggressive interference on Miami's constant screen plays. That and the Heat stopped hitting threes. With the offense still cooking and the defense no longer suffering a reanimated Mike Miller, the Knicks dominated. They erased then overturned an eight-point halftime deficit with consecutive plus-ten quarters to close the game. Melo carried them out of the reach, then stuck one last contested jumper in Battier's ear to reach an even 50.
I don't have much else in the way of interesting notes and it is now quite late, so I'll just spit it all out:
- Tyson Chandler looked a little sheepish in his return, but played solidly whenever the Knicks let him stick with Bosh and looked pretty healthy in violently spanking Bosh's fourth-quarter lay-up off the glass (to make up for poor pick-and-roll coverage).
- Jason Kidd played pretty awful defense until late in the game. One of several great late defensive plays Kidd made was shuffling in front of Norris Cole to draw a charge WHILE pointing toward the corner to direct a Raymond Felton switch.
- Felton couldn't turn a single corner until he broke loose for a bunch of great pick-and-roll finishes and feeds in the second half.
- J.R. Smith ran headlong into a lot of double-teams and, for the first time in a while, couldn't get a bucket or a foul call.
- Iman Shumpert took five shots-- all three-pointers-- and hit three of them, which is a thing he just keeps doing.
- Kenyon Martin made up for some wayward pick-and-roll defense with a few solid help fouls, some difficult rebounds, and a much-needed serving of friendly rolls around the rim. The one score that didn't need a friendly roll was Kenyon's savage two-hand dunk directly onto Chris Andersen's mohawk.
Tonight was fun and, for me, satisfying. Melo's 50 would have been a great time no matter what, but the Knicks' correction of first-half errors and sound handling of the hyper-coached Heat JV team made it count. Whether or not the Heat took the game seriously, the Knicks needed a win for the streak (nine straight), for the standings (now back at second for the moment), and because fuck the Heat.