So what Dwyane Wade and LeBron James weren’t playing tonight? The Knicks were missing their own superstars in Kurt Thomas and Rasheed Wallace! In all seriousness, I had some mixed feelings coming into tonight’s final regular season meeting between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat. On one hand, I wanted our winning streak to be tested against a fully healthy version of the defending champs. On the other hand, an “easy win” on paper was needed, as the Knicks and Pacers are literally changing places between #2 and #3 in the East every game. In the end, the Knicks got a win they absolutely had to have, and move on step closer to winning their first Atlantic division title since 1994.
AN INEXCUSABLE FIRST HALF: Things started off good enough in the first quarter with a red-hot Carmelo Anthony going on an 8-0 run all by himself, But as the game settled in, the small Knicks backcourt of Pablo Prigioni and Raymond Felton had problems with Chris Anderson’s rolls to the rim and getting over screens. After leading 27-25 after one, the Knicks forgot about defense and got torched by Mike Miller of all people for 13 points (18 at the half). Look here… there is no excuse for Miller to be lighting anyone up in 2013. The defensive switches were bad for the Knicks as were the useless double teams. The NY guards in particular were being beat at will by Norris Cole and Ray Allen into the paint. Tyson Chandler was still out of sync so his post presence wasn’t much of a factor with the Heat holding a 28-6 scoring edge in the paint and a 58-50 lead at halftime.
The offense wasn’t much better for the Knicks. JR Smith was having a very difficult time getting into the paint, but to his credit he stuck with his newfound game and had 9 points to compliment Melo’s 27.
THE ROAD BACK: It was a still a one-man show on offense for the Knicks with Melo having 42 points by the end of the third quarter. The main change was the defense. Miller was held scoreless as the closeouts and rotations were vastly improved. The Knicks forced Cole to make tough decisions, leading to rushed and contested shots. The Knicks had some sloppy turnovers late that prevented them from getting any additional breathing room. However, a Melo drive and kick out for a Steve Novak trey at the buzzer gave the Knicks a slim 78-76 lead going into the fourth.
GRINDED AND SPIT OUT: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the fourth quarter would be a grind out 12 minutes and it was in the early going. Kenyon Martin, who had been providing his usual good defense all game, smashed home a two-handed slam over Chris Anderson. Raymond Felton came alive in getting into the lane and also working a long jumper to extend the NY lead to 84-78. But the Heat battled back behind Chris Bosh’s ability to draw fouls inside to tie it at 86 with 7:49 remaining.
The biggest break for the Knicks came with them clinging to an 90-88 lead and Bosh throwing a nice one-handed pass to an open Shane Battier. The three-pointer barely missed, and the Knicks immediately called time to regroup. From that point on, with 5-6 minutes left, the Heat would not score another field goal.
Melo closed the show in efficient and deadly fashion, hitting quick, long jumpers and a three-pointer to push the Knicks ahead 95-88. Bosh’s attempt at a layup resulted in a loud, nasty block from Tyson Chandler. The scoring dagger would be JR Smith’s trey that made it 99-88 with under 2 minutes to play.
On the Knicks’ last possession, JR informed Melo that he was one field goal off from 50, promptly Melo to casually swish another long jumper to equal his career-high.
MELO STARTS OFF APRIL CORRECT: Last April it was Melo who willed us into the playoffs with off the charts play. If his play from tonight is any indication, we may get another amazing month. Melo’s 50 points came on 18/26 shooting (7/10 from downtown). Who’s bright idea on the Heat’s coaching staff was it to give Udonis Haslem extended minutes guarding Melo?
ANOTHER SEASON SERIES GOES TO THE KNICKSTAPE: A few days ago the Knicks took the season series from Boston 3-1. Tonight, Miami got the same treatment, with their lone win being achieved by coming back from a 16-point deficit. The playoffs are an entirely different animal, but the Knicks will enter it with confidence against the best team in the league should they meet in the conference finals.
Next up tomorrow night are the Hawks down in Atlanta. Let’s see if Melo’s hot shooting carries over.