Above Average Thoughts From An Average Guy
The most surprising thing in the passing days between Sunday’s 89-87 Knicks win and Wednesday’s Game 5 was how literally no one shared my sense of paranoia that the loss would somehow beget a Heat collapse.
For the Knicks, Game 4 provided a vintage Carmelo Anthony performance, a surprisingly effective Amare Stoudemire game, and things breaking wrong for the Heat every which way. But it was still only a 2-point win, and the prevailing reaction was never “Maybe this will give them the spark they need to pull themselves back into the series” but rather “I’m glad they got the playoff losing streak monkey off their back.” It seemed like everyone was content with avoiding the ignominy of a sweep even if Wednesday was indeed the last stand for whatever was left of the 2011-12 Knicks.
In my last post, I mentioned in a tongue-in-cheek way the possibility of a hobbled Jeremy Lin coming off the bench and giving the Knicks a Curt Schilling/Willis Reed-type lift to get the series back to New York and possibly beyond. Oddly enough, that actually became the dominant story during the downtime between Games 4 and 5. Lin, as reported, was ruled out for the remainder of the series, citing his inability to ever get going at 100 percent (he claims he could only get himself to 85 percent). Linsanity was the magical run that defined the Knicks’ season, so in many ways it made sense that if they were to desperately make any last-ditch effort to get back in this series, they’d do it by trying to recapture the halcyon days of early February.
But no one ever seemed to get the sense the Knicks could win this game. Perhaps it was the absence of that boisterous Madison Square Garden crowd creating the atmosphere that gave the home team an extra edge as it did all throughout Game 4, but more likely, it was the Heat looking more focused and invested early, particularly from contributors outside the Big 3. At halftime, Charles Barkley, when citing how the Knicks had no chance to win, simply stated, “If the Miami bench can play well against you, you’ve got some issues.”
Although the Knicks never made their move, the Heat didn’t officially signal to the Pacers to start making travel arrangements to South Beach until there were just over 2 minutes left in the 3rd quarter when Miami went up 15. From that point on, the game had an oddly last-day-of-school vibe. The Knicks still were within striking distance as late as the 3:16 mark of the 4th quarter when they cut Miami’s lead to 11, but by that time the TNT announcers had already started doing their postmortem, bringing up at various times rumors of a Mike Woodson contract extension, when Linsanity took the world by storm this winter, the Knicks’ difficulty in overcoming their myriad injuries, and how the Pacers match up with the Heat. For the Knicks, they were going through the motions; it was a game no one thought they’d win in a series no one thought they’d win.
To their credit, the Knicks, in an about-face from what I wrote about them after Game 3, did have a pulse. The last two games they played hard; they were sloppy with the ball Wednesday night for sure, but they had pride, and I think even seeing that on display reassured Knicks fans. But 4-1 instead of 4-0 is just one ugly number that is improved upon. Game 5, and the series as a whole, still leave us with these figures:
-Mike Bibby started this game! (Not a stat, it’s just amazing that happened.)
-They were desperately overmatched by Miami’s speed, as the Heat gained a 20 to 4 edge in fast break points in Game 5.
-In the last three games, J.R. Smith shot 11 of 48 (just 23 percent).
-The Knicks finished the series with just 63 assists and 92 turnovers.
-The Heat still beat the Knicks by double digits in every win.
-Carmelo Anthony is 17-37 in the playoffs in his career.
Removing the fact that they have one of the league’s best scorers, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, the privilege of playing in front of the NBA’s best crowd, and a rich and proud franchise history, there was one inescapable fact about this series: The Knicks were the 7th seed. And on four out of five nights, they played like it.
Scattered thoughts and observations:
-My one takeaway from this game is my frustration with Miami’s habit of taking their foot off the gas when possessing a sizeable lead, a la allowing the Knicks to hang around at the 3:16 mark mentioned above. Sometimes the Heat have this bad habit for whole games—they never looked ready to go in for the kill during Game 4, even when the game was within reach—but other times they just lapse in focus like that stretch in the 4th quarter where there was no offensive rhythm, LeBron was jacking hideously ill-advised jumpers, and they started the quarter looking disengaged, shooting 3 of 9 from the field. Fortunately, they greatly upped the defensive intensity and the lead never truly diminished. But it bugged me how, after a timeout at 3:16, they seemed to bang out some quick plays for Chris Bosh and Shane Battier that put the dagger in the Knicks, which made me question why they didn’t do it sooner. There will be opponents that both match them defensively and outshoot them at times this postseason, and being one-dimensional for stretches will lead to deficits they won’t be able to overcome (do I need to remind them of when J.J. Barea and Jason Terry caught fire from the field in last year’s Finals?)
-It didn’t feel like anything was different, and it doesn’t mean it won’t bottom out in another game this postseason, but 3-point shooting—particularly from the bench and role players—was surprisingly efficient, with the Heat shooting 47 percent in Game 5 as opposed to a woeful 16 percent in Game 4.
-I referenced how I knew the Heat crowd would’ve disappointed with Amare/fire extinguisher signs on Twitter last week. With that in mind, hat tip to Deadspin for isolating game audio and finding the Heat announcer referring to Amare’s sixth foul with the line, “He has been extinguished from the game.” You can ignore Deadspin’s holier-than-thou commentary underneath the video though. Especially considering during this same incident Stoudemire extended a hand to an on-the-ground Battier and immediately walked away when Battier reached out. [Update: In fairness, Deadspin later acknowledged this part of the replay as well.] Also, because it’s risible if they think I’m supposed to have the slightest trace of empathy for Stoudemire getting hurt via a hotheaded, volatile act with little thought of team or personal well-being that was entirely intentional and preventable. (By that logic, I won’t make any Metta World Peace elbowing jokes either.)
-I still don’t know what Landry Fields does. Mind you, I don’t watch a ton of Knicks basketball, and I’m not even saying he’s bad by any means, I just don’t know what his one discernible skill is above all else that I should be wary of when he’s on the floor.
-Who was that woman in blue who kept jumping up for every big Knicks play? After Carmelo’s jumper toward the end of the 3rd quarter, she looked like she was ready to recreate the crazy Nuggets fan’s court walk-on from the other night.
-When you watch Carmelo make some of those tough, off-balanced shots look effortless, it’s really hard to believe he’s not the leader of at least one championship team at some point, somewhere. He’s too prolific a scorer.
-That being said, on Inside the NBA: After Hours—I love when there is a West Coast playoff game so I can watch it at 1:30 a.m. on the East Coast. They began last night’s show fucking around with Siri for a minute, the same thing I started doing when I got bored during Grizzlies/Clippers—Barkley cut to the heart of the Knicks problems, saying Carmelo Anthony is the best offensive player (I’d dispute that, but he’s in the top three) but does not make anybody on his team better. This comment got me thinking that, although the Knicks would not have been favorites with a healthy Jeremy Lin, he absolutely, undoubtedly would’ve made a difference in their game plan, so this series perfectly fits in with this column’s theme of asterisked, tainted championships (or at least mildly, imperceptibly tainted Round Ones).
-While we’re on the subject of Inside the NBA, I loved everything about this particular “Gone Fishing,” but the name of the boat is the perfect way to send off this crazy Knicks season (and a tribute to a popular meme on this blog as well).