The New York Knicks tied a franchise playoff low in scoring as LeBron James – despite sitting out the entire fourth quarter – outscored New York’s starting five all by himself, and yet neither of those two things was the worst part of the Knicks’ miserable afternoon in Miami on Saturday.
James, who shot 10 of 14 from the field, scored 11 of his game-high 32 points during a pivotal 24-2 run to close the first half, as the Miami Heat coasted to a dominating 100-67 victory in the teams’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff opener.
In a day of losing things, from their poise under pressure, to too many minutes for several key players due to first-half foul trouble, to their tenth straight playoff game dating back eleven years, the Knicks’ biggest setback was seeing rookie guard Iman Shumpert’s season come to an unfortunate and abrupt end when his left knee gave out midway through the third quarter.
Dribbling near midcourt as he tried to go behind his back while making a quick and awkward change of direction, Shumpert tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus. The injury looked bad from the moment it happened, as Shumpert collapsed to the floor and instantly writhed in severe pain. After he was helped up, Shumpert couldn’t put any weight on the injured knee, and he was carried to the locker room by fellow rookie teammates Josh Harrellson and Jerome Jordan.
Shumpert was widely considered one of the Knicks’ best defensive players all season, and he had been a solid offensive contributor throughout the year, especially since he was moved into the starting lineup over the final 17 games of the regular season, after surprise sensation Jeremy Lin was lost to his own knee injury on March 24th.
As New York’s first-round pick, 17th overall last June, Shumpert averaged 9.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.7 steals per game while averaging nearly 29 minutes in 59 regular season contests, and he averaged 10.8 points per game as a starter.
Ironically, it was Shumpert who labeled New York’s very strong bench “Mob Deep” when he was a part of it earlier in the season, but with Shumpert expected to be out for the next six to eight months, New York’s bench will be weakened for the rest of this season and into next year. Forward Landry Fields will be the likely candidate to return from the bench, back to the starting lineup for at least the rest of the series against the Heat.
Even more ironic was that down the stretch of the regular season, New York was unsure of whether it would face Miami or top-seeded Chicago and its reigning NBA MVP guard Derrick Rose, and less than two hours before Shumpert’s injury, Rose’s season was likewise ended due to an ACL tear in Chicago’s playoff-opening win at home over eighth-seeded Philadelphia.
Long before everything took a sharp turn for the worse for New York, the Knicks were unexpectedly able to hang around with the Heat despite their best player and one of the NBA’s best scorers, starting star forward Carmelo Anthony, failing to make a field goal.
Harassed relentlessly by the tight defense of James and forward Shane Battier, Anthony missed his first seven shots from the floor, but New York was only down 30-29, nearing the halfway point of the second quarter.
By the time Anthony finally made his first field goal with 2:06 left in the first half, Miami had already started to pull away with 13 consecutive points, to lead 43-29.
And, after that basket by Anthony (who was held to just 11 points on 3 of 15 shooting from the field), the Heat reeled off the next 19 points, including the first eight of the second half, to double the Knicks, 62-31, three minutes into the third quarter.
New York scored the next nine points to get to within an ever so slightly more respectable 62-40 with 7:05 left in the third quarter, but the Knicks never got closer than that as the Heat’s lead ballooned to as much as 84-47 on Miami’s first possession of the fourth quarter.
A huge foul disparity though sent the Heat to the free throw line repeatedly, especially during the game-turning spurt over the final six minutes of the second quarter, while the unaggressive Knicks settled for a bunch of missed jump shots.
In all, New York was whistled for nine more fouls (26-17) as Miami attempted 22 more free throws (33-11) and made 14 more (24-10) than the Knicks.
While Shumpert failed to score in 19 minutes, neither did starting center Tyson Chandler in over 21 minutes after picking up four personal fouls in his first 11 minutes, including a football type of illegal screen on James near midcourt, late in the second quarter.
Point guard Baron Davis (ten points) and forward Amar’e Stoudemire (nine points) were the other Knick starters who were kept in check by a suffocating Miami defense that held New York to just 35.7 percent shooting (25-for-70) from the field, as the Knicks suffered their fourth-worst playoff defeat, covering 355 postseason games in their 66-year history. New York also matched the scoring futility it set in its loss to San Antonio in Game 2 of the 1999 NBA Finals (coincidentally, the last year there was a lockout-induced shortened regular season like there was this year).
Miami, one of the league’s best teams at making opponents paying for mistakes, lost the ball 17 times, but turned 27 New York mistakes into a 38-13 advantage in points off turnovers.
That was only part of the Knicks losing their cool against the Heat. In addition to Chandler’s flagrant foul, New York was whistled for three technical fouls, one each for the three who are supposed to be the Knicks’ leaders – Anthony, Stoudemire, and head coach Mike Woodson.
Reserve guard J.R. Smith led New York with 17 points in 33 minutes off the bench, but that was overshadowed by 19 points on 8 of 13 shooting from the floor by Miami star guard Dwyane Wade.
Smith, along with Fields could be tasked to guard Wade for the rest of the series in place of Shumpert.
After Game 1, that will be just one of many big adjustments the Knicks will need to make in order to be able to compete with the Heat in the series, and there’s not much time before New York gets its next chance to do so.
With Shumpert getting ready to undergo surgery, Game 2 will be back in Miami on Monday night at 7 pm ET.