NEW YORK – Perhaps it was the fresh legs the New York Knicks had from not having to open their season in Brooklyn the night before, as was originally scheduled. Or, maybe it was the drastic difference in the sense of urgency shown by a supremely talented NBA champion playing in the postseason, compared to that of the same team playing an initial road game the following regular season.
Whatever the case, the three-pointers that a stingy Miami Heat defense repeatedly denied New York (1-0) during the first round of last year’s NBA playoffs didn’t make an appearance at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
Instead, the Knicks used good ball movement, solid defense, and 19 three-pointers to start their 2012-13 season with a 104-84 thrashing of the Heat (1-1) before a sellout crowd of 19,033 during the first professional sporting event in New York City since the area was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy earlier in the week.
Falling just one triple shy of a franchise record for three-pointers in a game (set in back-to-back contests in March, 2011), New York sank its most opening night treys in team history.
Thanks in large part to shooting a sizzling 52.8 percent in 36 attempts from beyond the arc, six Knicks (including four starters) scored in double figures, led by forward Carmelo Anthony (game-high 30 points), who set the game’s tone by almost singlehandedly matching Miami’s scoring in the opening frame.
“They were tremendous from the three-point line,” said Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. “Even if they were straight, wide open threes, in an NBA game, that’s tough to make 19 of 36… they shot the ball very well.”
Making four of five three-pointers, Anthony scored 16 points in the first period to account for the 33-17 margin his team held by the quarter’s end, and was often just as excited to draw a foul on an aggressive drive to the basket as he was after knocking down long-range jumpers.
With his team surrounding him at mid-court, Anthony addressed the fans prior to the opening tip, during the fallout of a powerful and deadly storm a thousand miles in diameter postponed what was supposed to be the former New Jersey Nets’ first-ever regular season home game in Brooklyn (on Thursday night, against the Knicks), to November 26th.
“We didn’t know if they game was going to be played,” said Anthony. “Then, before the game… we saw that they cancelled the [New York City] marathon [on Sunday]… today was something to give New Yorkers a couple hours of peace, to come to the game and support us. We gave them a good show tonight. That’s the least we could do.”
New York head coach Mike Woodson noted the positive effect that had on Knick fans and on what their involvement did for his team. “Our fans were fantastic,” he said. “They’re like our sixth man and it’s beautiful to watch… our fans were in it right from the beginning to right at the end. It’s great, it says a lot about our city and the fans that support us [for them to do so during such a difficult time].”
Woodson also credited his entre team’s effort at each end of the floor, saying, “It wasn’t just Carmelo. It was everybody… our defense [was] solid from the very beginning, all the way through, and that’s how it’s got to be… offensively, the ball flowed.”
While Anthony missed his final three treys, he grabbed a team-high ten rebounds as his teammates followed his earlier lead from long distance over the final three periods – especially reserve guard Steve Novak, who picked up where he left off last year as the league’s most accurate three-point shooter.
After not attempting a shot while playing three minutes in the first quarter, Novak scored 17 points and made five of eight threes the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, the Knicks employed their trio of newly acquired point guards, and although 35-year-old Argentinean rookie Pablo Prigioni (three assists, three turnovers) failed to score in over 16 minutes of action, Raymond Felton (14 points, while beginning his second stint with New York) and future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd (12 points, while starting his 19th NBA season and first as a Knick) each made three treys on efficient shooting – Felton, in seven three-point attempts, and Kidd in five.
Although reserve guard J.R. Smith (11 points) shot just three of 11 from the floor overall, he made two of his four three-pointers and center Tyson Chandler grabbed eight rebounds while adding ten points on a perfect five-of-five from the field, all from close range.
Leading 7-6, the Knicks scored the next ten points and never looked back after an Anthony three-pointer capped a larger 23-6 run that gave New York a commanding 30-12 lead.
The Knicks’ hot three-point shooting kept the Heat at a comfortable distance thereafter, as an expected big run from the defending league champions never came.
“They had energy, disposition and quickness to the ball on both ends of the court,” said Spoelstra of New York. “They played very good basketball and got us on our heels pretty much the whole game, and we weren’t able to recover from there.”
Yet, Spoelstra also added of his team, which swept the Knicks in three regular season games before taking them out in five games in the postseason last May, “We’re clearly much better than this.”
After digging such a big hole early, the closest Miami would get was 52-42 on a layup by forward Chris Bosh (12 points, game-high 11 rebounds) with 1:04 left in the first half.
Early in the third quarter, when star forward LeBron James (team-high 23 points, seven rebounds, five assists) dunked an alley oop pass from fellow star, guard Dwyane Wade (15 points, five rebounds, four assists), the Heat remained within striking distance, trailing by a dozen points, but Miami’s Big Three of James, Wade and Bosh had little help and combined for 39 of the Heat’s 46 points to that point.
Reserve forward Rashard Lewis (16 points), who heated up too late to make a significant difference, was the only other Miami player to finish the game scoring in double figures.
Consecutive three-pointers by Novak came over the final stretch of a 17-6 Knicks spurt that forced a Heat time out with 3:11 left in the third quarter, as New York’s lead swelled to the largest of the game, 75-52.
A reverse, driving layup by Wade brought Miami to within 87-74 with just over seven minutes left in the game, but Felton answered with a three-pointer on the next possession, and another Novak three-pointer with 4½ minutes remaining pushed the Knicks’ advantage back up to 96-76 and caused Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra to concede the game by pulling James and Wade for good, just nine seconds later.
James admitted that, “[The Knicks] played well. They fed off of not only the city, [but] the fans [and] everything that’s been going on and it’s a good win for them.”
Adding to those thoughts, Bosh and Felton each put the meaning of New York’s win in perspective.
“It’s always good to see how resilient people are in the wake of a disaster,” said Bosh. “It’s not always an easy thing to go through things like [the effects of Hurricane Sandy]. I think I speak on behalf of [everyone in the Miami Heat organization] when I say, ‘Our hearts go out to those who are affected.’ We’re good here [as basketball players] but everybody [in the New York area] isn’t good. I’ve been watching the news since I got here… I just want to let them know that were thinking about them.”
Like Anthony stated, Felton acknowledged that in the grand scheme of things, the Knicks were simply trying to provide a temporary distraction and for a brief time, lift the spirits of a city which had been through a lot, noting that, “People lost homes, people died [in the storm].” His voice trailed off, but the point was well understood.
Chandler said that before game, “It was difficult because we were in the locker room and I think everyone had the hurricane on their minds, and everything the city is going through. And then, as we were going out onto the floor, we [thought] our friends are here, the thing we can do is put smiles on their faces and represent the city well.”
That, they did, especially when being led by Anthony, whom Chandler praised.
“[Carmelo] is very motivated right now,” said Chandler. I’ve only been with him [as Knick teammates] for two years, but this is the most motivated I’ve seen him. He’s doing so much, and not only what you, [the media], saw on display tonight, but in the film room and walk-throughs. He’s changed. He’s getting in early… pulling guys to the side to give them advice. He’s really being a great teammate. I think the summer experience [of helping the United States win a gold medal in the Olympics] definitely helped him.”
Since then, Anthony had slimmed down, and was even publicly called by a new name on Friday night. No longer did the Garden public address announcer refer to the Knicks’ leader by his full first name, but by Anthony’s well-known shorter name, calling the star “Melo Anthony” for the first time, throughout the game. He was also introduced that way on the main MSG scoreboard above center court.
“They’re always trying something new in New York. I had nothing to do with it, but since we won, I guess we’ll keep it like that,” said a smiling Anthony, who agreed that using the nick name of the best Knick seems a perfect fit.
Joining the three New York point guards, five other players also saw their first minutes either as a Knick for the first time, or in making their return to New York after not being on the team last season.
Seventh-year forward Ronnie Brewer (seven points, five rebounds, three assists in over 20 minutes) started for injured star forward Amar’e Stoudemire, who after missing most of last year’s playoff series against Miami when he punched a fire extinguisher casing, is out six to eight weeks with a knee injury.
Forward Kurt Thomas (no points, three rebounds in more than 16 minutes), a former Division I scoring champion in college, and the Knicks’ oldest player at age 40, is playing out the twilight of his career after an earlier successful campaign with New York.
Third-year forward James White and rookie forward Chris Copeland each played their first 1:58 in a Knick uniform at the end of the game.
However, former star forward Rasheed Wallace, who in his 15th season, drained the Knicks’ final three-pointer, drew the loudest ovation of the night when he got off the bench with 3:20 remaining, after Woodson acquiesced to the crowd’s chants for Wallace to enter the game.
Center Marcus Camby, a key member of the last New York team to reach the NBA finals (in 1999), and who rejoined the Knicks in the offseason, was the only Knick not to dress and not play.
Two nights before their Sunday afternoon home game in New Jersey, which was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, members of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Justin Tuck and Victor Cruz were in attendance. Each drew big cheers from the crowd, including a loud, trademark “Cruuuuz!” chant for the latter.
Trying to draw off of a win against the team that ended their season last year, the Knicks will play their first game of the season within the Atlantic Division, when they host the Philadelphia 76ers (1-0), at noon ET on Sunday.