NEW YORK – The resurgent New York Knicks hadn’t lost a home game under interim head coach Mike Woodson.
But then, Woodson’s Knicks hadn’t faced the tough Miami Heat at home, either.
Miami’s superstar duo outdueled New York’s lone luminary on Sunday afternoon, as the Heat (42-17) used an 18-3 run to erase a 79-75 deficit and beat the Knicks 93-85 to sweep the teams’ three-game regular season series before a largely orange-clad sellout crowd on T-shirt Day at Madison Square Garden.
Forward Carmelo Anthony (42 points) matched the Heat’s scoring total over the middle two quarters, but guard J.R. Smith (16 points in nearly 36 minutes off the bench) was the only other Knick to score in double figures, as Miami was led by forward LeBron James (29 points) and guard Dwyane Wade (28 points).
Smith’s offensive production was cancelled out by forward Chris Bosh (16 points), leaving Anthony with the burden of having to carry his team to the finish line primarily on his back alone.
Anthony took the Knicks (31-29) only so far, missing five of his last seven shots from the floor after starting the game an efficient 12-for-20.
Rookie guard Iman Shumpert’s post-game comments typified the reluctance of all Knicks other than Anthony or Smith to get involved in the team’s offense while they too often stood around and watched Anthony go to work.
“Melo had it going pretty good… so we didn’t really need me to score today,” said Shumpert, who scored just three points while taking only four shots (making only one) from the floor, despite starting and playing almost 38 minutes.
Actually, the Knicks could have sorely used the scoring ability Shumpert had shown of late.
Shumpert (who tied Anthony’s team-high five assists) had averaged nearly 11 field goal attempts and over 13 points per game over ten previous contests after being inserted into the starting lineup out of necessity once two key starters – forward Amar’e Stoudemire and point guard Jeremy Lin – each went down with injuries that have kept them sidelined ever since.
But, a desperately needed third scoring option never arrived, least of all, down stretch, when James expertly took over forward Shane Battier’s failed earlier job of trying to effectively guard Anthony.
Instead, a driving dunk by Smith (off of a steal by Shumpert and a feed by Anthony) which gave New York its largest lead (by four points, with 8:08 left in the game) was the only field goal the Knicks would make until a dunk by center Tyson Chandler (nine points, five rebounds) 4:13 later, before the Heat put the game away with six consecutive points.
Woodson took some of the blame for not getting Shumpert more shots. “Offensively, we were so stagnant,” he said. “We have to get some [ball] movement and we didn’t do that… defensively, [Shumpert] held his own, there with Wade and whoever [else] he played [at times], but we have to get him going [offensively].”
Contributing to that problem was a banged up Baron Davis (3 points on 1 of 6 shooting from the floor; four assists, team-high five turnovers) who once again struggled to move the ball up the floor fast enough for Woodson’s liking.
“I thought our pace was so slow today,” said Woodson. “We have to get the ball up the floor a lot quicker and get into our offense.”
And, when they were in the front court, the Knicks either failed to get to the free throw line enough or missed too many foul shots when they did get there.
“When we got into the penalty in the third quarter, we didn’t utilize the free throw line,” said Woodson. “We kind of lived on jump shots and that is on me.”
Starting forward Landry Fields (just four points on 2-for-8 shooting from the floor) agreed, saying, “We weren’t aggressive, we were settling for jumpers. We were in the penalty for four or five minutes and we weren’t going to the line. We have to take advantage of the penalty.”
Only three Knicks went to the free throw line, where Anthony made 12 of 15 attempts. Chandler and Davis each made only one of four free throws however, while the Heat made 81 percent (17-21) of its free throws.
Although New York held a modest 9-4 edge in fast break points, Anthony felt his team could have used more of a transition game on a day when neither team reached 80 field goal attempts.
“We weren’t able to get out in transition where we have been thriving,” said Anthony, who was part of an offense that jacked up 30 three-pointers (making nine) – only 13 fewer than the two-pointers the Knicks took.
While Anthony led New York with nine rebounds, Miami’s big three of Bosh (16), James (ten), and Wade (nine) combined to match the Knicks’ total of 33 boards, as the Heat overall, held a rebound advantage of 14 boards.
It was also the first time in 25 seasons that a Knick reached the 40-point mark in a game while no other Knick reached double figures in a game –a formula that allowed Miami to capture just its fourth win in its past dozen road games.
The Heat’s second straight win overall clinched its second Southeast Division title in a row since James left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to team up with Bosh in joining Wade in Miami. The trio wasn’t put together to win championships of that sort however, as just like last year’s Heat team that lost in the NBA finals, anything short of an NBA title would once again be considered a failure for a squad that currently sits 3½ games behind Chicago for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
There’s still a good chance that Miami’s postseason road back to the NBA finals could begin with a playoff meeting against New York, although with the loss, the Knicks fell into eighth place in the East, two games ahead of Milwaukee, but one-half game behind Philadelphia, which through Sunday, would be the team in position to face Miami in the first round of the playoffs.
Including a win over NBA-leading Chicago last Sunday, the Knicks had won their first nine home games (mostly in blowouts) and 13 of 17 games overall since Woodson moved down the bench and took over on March 14th for Mike D’Antoni, who left the Knicks with a dismal 18-24 mark.
That fact wasn’t lost on James, who noted, “It was good to come out against a team that had won nine straight on this floor and get a win in a tough environment.”
While James was the spark in the second half, it was Wade who got the Heat off to a fast start, scoring 12 points to pace Miami to a 20-11 lead after the Heat opened an 18-7 advantage. Miami match that lead three more times in the opening quarter, the last one coming on a James three-pointer, before New York scored the final four point of the period to get to within 29-22.
New York clamped down defensively in the next quarter, and stared the period on a 10-2 run to grab its first lead of the game, 32-31, on a Shumpert three-pointer just past the midway point of the quarter. The Knicks extended that advantage to three points three different times, but the Heat scored the last five points of the quarter to take a 46-44 lead into the halftime break.
That was good news for Miami, which started as warm as its team nickname, making ten of its first 16 shots from the floor, only to miss 13 of its next 16 as the Knicks’ defensive intensity improved.
A left-wing three-pointer by Anthony kept New York within 54-53, but ten third-quarter points by James helped Miami take a nine-point lead on three separate occasions in the period before a couple of threes by Smith highlighted a 10-4 quarter-closing that brought the Knicks to within 71-68 heading into the final period.
An 11-4 run to start the fourth quarter extended an overall run of 21-8 spanning the last two periods and restored a playoff atmosphere to the Garden, but that environment was soon deflated by a 12-1 Miami spurt that gave the Heat control for good.
Defiantly, Anthony believes his team could hold its own should the Knicks and Heat meet again this season, when a lot more would be at stake.
“It [would] be a battle. We feel very confident against anybody right now. Our confidence is sky high. We will learn from this game and get better.”
The next opportunity for the Knicks to do that will come on Tuesday night, when New York will end a three-game homestand against the first-place Boston Celtics, whom the Knicks trail by 4½ games in the Atlantic Division, with only six games to play.
Source: all quotes recorded and transcribed, and all photos taken by Jonathan Wagner while covering the Miami Heat-New York Knicks game for New York Sports Day, at Madison Square Garden, in New York, on April 15, 2012.