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For most of the second half, you got the feeling that the Knicks had put up a good fight and had stayed with one of the league’s best teams for a good portion of the night, but just didn’t have enough firepower to counter the attacks that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade frequently unleashed. The Knicks were struggling to connect on outside shots and the Heat’s stifling defense staggered Mike D’Antoni’s offense on more than a few possessions. Every shot the Knicks took was contested and their notorious defense struggled to contain two of the game’s best offensive weapons.
But then, after stopping the Heat from breaking the game open on a few occasions by getting Amare Stoudemire a good look downlow, the Knicks started knocking down a few shots and the Heat, mainly Wade, rushed shots in transition to give the Knicks more chances than they should have had. Danilo Gallinari, who had missed four of his five triple attempts in the first three periods, hit a three with 5:20 to go to give the Knicks a one-point lead, then assisted on a triple for Landry Fields with 4:47 left to give New York an 80-78 and then hit yet another three with 1:17 left to give the Knicks the lead for good. To really seal the deal, Fields would add another triple in the closing minute to put the dagger in Miami’s heart. LeBron would come up with a pair of two point field goals in the final minute but Raymond Felton responded to each field goal with a pair of field goals and the Knicks ended up taking the game by the score of 93-88.
This was a pretty frustrating night for both sides on the offensive end. Outside of their key offensive weapons (in this case, Amare and Wade), nobody played a particularly good game with the ball in their hands.
More on the third installment of the renewed Knicks-Heat rivalry after the break…
LeBron James had one of his worst games of the year. Too many times, the rest of the Heat were forced to play the role of the 2009-2010 Cavaliers. James isolated far too often in this game, he settled for outside shots against a team without an interior defensive presence and when he was sent into the post – remember, he was listed as the starting power forward in this game – he had a lot of trouble making any kind of a move against Raymond Felton, who is every bit of six-foot-one. James missed 17 of his 24 shots in this game and while his 11 rebounds and five assists were helpful, the offense was broken by James too many times and if you exclude two easy lay-ups in the final minute of the game, James went five-of-22 from the field in this game.
Wade was a lot more impressive. Playing with fashionable concussion shades, Wade made 13 of his first 14 field goals. He got to the rim at will, saw the basket well from the mid-range and got himself some good looks in transition. But despite the near perfect start, Wade closed the game making just one of his last eight field goals, including some key lay-ups that his team needed in the fourth quarter. Additionally, even when Wade was on his hot streak from the field, Flash struggled mightily from the charity stripe, making just six of his 14 free throws on the evening. Needless to say, if Wade replicated his career average from the line in this game, a different result could be expected. Wade also added a career high 16 rebounds to go along with his game high 34 points and five assists, but he missed his shots when they mattered and ended up with six turnovers, too.
You could tell the Heat might end up losing this one when James Jones, who was lighting it up in the first half from beyond the arc and finished the game with 15 points and five triples, missed his first unguarded three-point attempt of the game. And then the offense started to break down completely. James was forcing things on his own, the ball wasn’t moving and there never seemed to be any offensive direction, again showing some flaws with the Heat’s battle plan. If they can’t execute a successful offensive set against a team like the Knicks with two of the league’s best offensive weapons and two of the league’s most effective three-point shooters, there is clearly a problem with their late game offense that Erick Spoelstra needs to address.
Instead of James or Wade stepping up, it was Gallinari, seen as a potential three-point marksman by many, finally coming through with his outside touch in the fourth quarter. I wrote earlier this year about how the Knicks’ success this season was surprising because of their shooters inability to shoot the basketball from the perimeter and Gallinari was the main culprit. To this point in the season, Gallinari’s ineffectiveness hasn’t changed much – he’s still shooting just 42% from the field and 36% from three on the year - he hit them when they counted in this one and a win over the Heat is definitely a confidence builder and perhaps his performance down the stretch will help him get back on track.
Rookie guard Landry Fields was just spectacular in this game. Not only did he knock down a pair of huge three’s in crunch time, something that he’s not known for or expected to do, but he made the skip pass to Gallinari on his go-ahead bucket that would end up being the game winner, he kept moving the ball all night long and he grabbed 13 rebounds. Despite Blake Griffin‘s recent dominance, there’s not a more mature rookie in the league right now than Fields. Nobody is more polished, nobody is this smart on the floor, and nobody is doing the little things better than Fields. He’s the unheralded jewel of the 2010 rookie class and he came up huge for the Knicks tonight. 19 points, 13 rebounds (five offensive, including one in crunch time that created a much needed extra possession for the Knicks) and six assists for Fields in this one, while holding LeBron James and Dwyane Wade to 40% shooting when he was on them.
Amare produced for the Knicks in this one at his average rate, which has to be considered above average when you consider who he was playing against. He made 10 of his 17 shots for 24 points while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out four assists. He made his mid-range jumpshot all night long, whether it was off a curl or out of an isolation set, he took the ball to the rim and drew fouls and he moved the ball out of the post when the Heat did a good job of clamping down on him.
Its hard to imagine the Knicks winning a game against the league’s fourth best team, at least record wise (now tied with Chicago at 31-14) when they shoot 36% from the field and 30% from deep while Wilson Chandler went three-of-14 from the field, Shawne Williams went four-of-11 from the field and Raymond Felton, thought by many to be an all-star candidate this season, went just one-of-six from the field, but they (read: Landry Fields) worked hard and smart on the glass, they made their shots when they needed too and they got a little luck from the basketball gods when LeBron decided regress back into pre-Decision mode.
Though Chris Bosh missed this game with an injury, there’s no reason to discount the Knicks’ victory in this one. They played a tough game throughout, never letting Miami’s dynamic duo get out on the break to bust the game open, and ended up getting a victory over one of the East’s top teams, which is a perfect remedy for a six game skid.