The Road to a Tainted Championship: Miami Heat vs. New York Knicks (Game 3)
Considering how anathema the Heat is to the many who view them as the league’s preeminent villain, it remains ironic that their defense—the thing most fans get infuriated at players for slacking on—is the most well-rounded, tenacious, and persistent in all of the NBA. Even Shane Battier, who offensively couldn’t have looked more washed up, made me feel better when he was on the floor because of his ability to switch onto Carmelo Anthony.
Game 3 was a shooting abomination and a 17-point blowout in the end, yet it remained far more entertaining and close than a cursory glance of the box score would indicate. That’s because stifling defense by the Knicks through three quarters and by the Heat for the entire game led to a fascinating exercise in two teams scraping, clawing, and grinding out an ugly win as they tried to find anything that worked when nothing did. The Heat needed to win this type of game, one in which the shots weren’t falling; by remaining physical and never lapsing in defensive intensity, they were able to bide their time until they did. It was the kind of game where a made shot didn’t signal the end but a forced miss: It occurred on a Steve Novak 3-point attempt in which Miami rotated beautifully and closed out to force a shot clock violation with 5:11 left on the clock and the Heat up 15. The Knicks essentially conceded at that point.
Charles Barkley and Michael Wilbon were calling for a Heat sweep when it was 2-0. The Knicks actually led at halftime and trailed by only 2 points after three quarters in Game 3. This was their last stand, and they squandered it. The Bruins blew a 3-0 lead to the Flyers in 2010. The Yankees blew a 3-0 lead against the Red Sox in 2004. But the Flyers and Red Sox had shown a pulse in the first three games of their respective series and just happened to lose. The Knicks look like the woozy and beaten-down character in Mortal Kombat right before “Finish him” appears on the screen.
If Carmelo Anthony getting a coach fired, Jeremy Lin’s slow rehab from knee surgery, Iman Shumpert’s torn ACL, Tyson Chandler’s flu, and Amare Stoudemire’s impromptu fire safety lesson weren’t enough of a hint that the cosmos were aligning against the Knicks as this year’s cinderella team, castoff guards Mike Bibby, Baron Davis, and J.R. Smith played significant minutes in the Knicks’ 7-man rotation during a must-win game Wednesday night. All this might be a blessing in disguise: Not only do the Knicks need to fit their various pieces together to take the next step in 2013, they need a full offseason to decide which pieces are even worth fitting.
If there is such a thing as a “hot start” in a playoff series, the Heat desperately needed one, coming off a sluggish end to the regular season that led many to question their focus. But the Heat has come firing out of the gate, looking like the team to beat even if Derrick Rose were healthy and the path through the East was much more menacing. Even in this game there were spots when the Heat didn’t appear disciplined—the Wade-to-LeBron dunk in the first quarter and the LeBron pushing-his-luck 3-point attempt in the fourth come to mind—even as it was all the kind of bullshit minutiae that’s a footnote if you win and a talking point for eternity if you lose. Wade staring down the Mavericks’ bench might not even make the highlight reel if the Heat close out Game 2 in last year’s finals. We now look at it as a turning point. The Heat is the best team in this year’s postseason, but they also haven’t won jack yet. They can play with the attitude and confidence that they’re the best team, but they haven’t earned the right to act like it.
The shots were clanking. The MSG crowd was electric. Miami’s ball-handling was at best sloppy and at worst atrocious. They appeared out of sync and without rhythm at times. But because the defense didn’t budge, they still won by 17.
Game 4 is on Sunday. The Heat still needs to win a title to silence their critics, but a 4-0 sweep would buy them a week of silence. I don’t know what “Finish him” move they plan to use against the Knicks, but Sunday is the time to unleash it.
Scattered thoughts and observations:
-There are only two ways this postseason ends: I’m either Stockholm Syndromed into liking Linkin Park’s “Burn It Down” or repetitive exposure to it on TNT leads to me tracking down Chester Bennington and pulling out his larynx with my bare hands. So far, surprisingly, I’m leaning toward the former.
-Miami took 12 shots in the fourth quarter when New York made their big run. Amare was obviously out, and Chandler was on the bench for a good chunk of it. See if you notice a pattern on their shot chart and why I was ready to throw my remote during each of the 7 Xs.
-The Knicks intensity should not be understated. They were chasing after every pass and every loose ball in an extremely scrappy effort to muster up anything.
-That being said, New York did break two records tonight: a franchise playoff low shooting percentage of 31.9 (breaking the old record of 33 percent, set against the Spurs in Game 2 of the 1999 Finals); and most consecutive playoff losses with 13. Mazel tov!
-LeBron didn’t have a sublime 4th quarter, but he wasn’t afraid to take the shots and set the tone early. (He was a little too comfortable at times: see the missed 3-pointer mentioned earlier.)
-When it rains it pours for the Knicks: Jeremy Lin has pretty much ruled himself out for Game 4, depriving headline writers of their “Just Lin Time” headline but opening up “Chinking Ship” for use by the racist headline writers looking for one last slur/pun.
-It also looks like Stoudemire will be out for Game 4, but I did appreciate his explanation on ESPN.com:
“It wasn’t like I had a closed fist and just punched through the glass,” Stoudemire said Wednesday. “It was nothing like that. I just walked by, wanted to make some noise, swung my arm, hit the fire extinguisher door and didn’t even realize I was cut at all until Josh Harrellson told me I was cut.”
His awareness rating in NBA 2K13 needs to drop 20 points for that alone.
-A heartfelt congratulations is in order for Chris Bosh and his wife, Adrienne, on the birth of the couple’s first child, Jackson. Bosh flew back to Miami Wednesday night after learning his wife went into labor. The baby was born healthy at about 3 a.m. EST. (We’ll all just assume that the baby’s name is a thinly veiled call for who Bosh wants to replace Spoelstra as Heat coach. Baseless speculation is fun.)
Bosh returned to New York and played 37 minutes despite some talk he might remain in south Florida. I was fine with his decision either way, but for the record, the hard-and-fast sliding scale for athletes with children on the way mid-season goes like this:
First child: You can miss a playoff game.
Second child: You can miss a regular season game.
Third child: You can miss a preseason game.
Fourth child: You can miss a scrimmage or batting practice session.
Fifth child: You can miss a team meeting.
Sixth child on down is no excuse. (At this rate, Antonio Cromartie’s not allowed to miss a scheduled autograph session at the opening of a car dealership in Hoboken.)
-On Twitter, Dan Le Batard pondered how Heat fans would react if this occurred with a different player in a different circumstance:
The answer is easy: Of course it goes over differently if it’s LeBron. We all make the “How appropriate, the baby never shows up in the fourth trimester” joke.