By: Jeremy Marks-Peltz
This is exactly the opponent the Miami Heat needed in the opening round.
Not the Magic, who are a shell of a playoff team, without Dwight Howard. Not the Sixers, whose team of non-stars would have engaged the Heat less than a nationally televised regular season opponent.
The Heat needed the Knicks. They needed a team that could stir the national pundits into thinking upset. They needed a team confident and cocky enough to believe that a series victory wouldn’t even be an upset. They needed a team with a player capable of matching LeBron James basket for basket.
All of those factors woke the Heat up from their spring slumber. And the Miami Heat defense awoke on Saturday, putting the rest of the NBA on notice:
Miami 100, New York 67.
The entire world saw a Heat team that provided tenacious effort and smarts on defense, forcing 24 Knicks turnovers. A dozen of those came in a second quarter that saw Miami manhandle it’s one time heated rival 30-13. LeBron James, probably ticketed for a third MVP, glided his way to 32 points in three quarters, but saved his most impressive work on the less heralded end of the floor.
LeBron’s defensive performance on good friend Carmelo Anthony could be described as alternately suffocating, smothering, overpowering, and just flat out nasty. It took ‘Melo 22 minutes to drain his first shot, a deep corner jumper. The Heat were up 43-31 at that point, and poured in 11 straight points to close out the half.
At that point, the Knicks had already poured the kerosene on themselves.
Already frustrated by what was once a 28-5 free throw attempt disparity, the Knicks showed why they haven’t won a playoff game since the days of the Ewing-Zo rivalry. Tyson Chandler popped LeBron with a hip check that warranted him a flagrant foul two, turned flagrant foul one. Questionable perhaps, but in the days post-Ron Artest, that stuff isn’t going to fly this postseason. Carmelo Anthony, in the midst of his three for 15 debacle, got T’d up. Just for good measure, interim coach Mike Woodson got tagged with a technical.
All of that just underscores the main point of Game 1, and probably, this series: The New York Knicks act like a team that thinks they know how to play postseason defense. The Miami Heat act like a team that knows they know how to play postseason defense. And at this rate, the Heat may have to only worry about three more days of scouting Stat and Melo. Especially since rookie Iman Shumpert’s gruesome, self-inflicted knee injury has KO’d him for the rest of the playoffs.
That’s not me as the cocky Miami Heat fan talking. While other sycophants have delusions of a free ticket to the NBA Finals thanks to Derrick Rose’s torn ACL/MCL, I caution that the Pacers’ depth and athleticsm provides a very tough test potentially in Round 2. And the Celtics, if they reach the Eastern Conference Finals, can easily dip into that fountain of youth, as they did in 2010.
Heck, you can even nitpick about plenty of things on the offensive end in this game. Chris Bosh (nine points, six rebounds) was practically a no-show. Mike Miller and Shane Battier are struggling to hit any part of a target right now, let alone the bullseye. Udonis Haslem tallied just two points.
None of those things really seem to be noticed when LeBron James and the Miami Heat defense come to play, however.
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