One game after the New York Knicks finally ended a record for playoff futility, Carmelo Anthony tying a far more positive postseason record wasn’t enough to prevent the Knicks from extending another playoff streak they’d like to forget.
Anthony scored a game-high 35 points on 15 of 31 shooting from the field to become only the third Knick to score at least 30 points three times during the same playoff series, but LeBron James’ 29 points were complimented by 19 points each from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, as the second-seeded Miami Heat disposed of the seventh-seeded New York Knicks in five games, with a 106-94 home victory in the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
After scoring 30 points in New York’s Game 2 loss in Miami and leading his team to a Game 4 win with 41 points at home, to snap an NBA-record 13-game playoff losing streak that spanned 11 years, Anthony joined former Knick greats Bernard King (1984, against Detroit) and Patrick Ewing (1990, against Boston) in posting a trio of 30-point games in a playoff series.
However, missing three key guards (Jeremy Lin, Iman Shumpert, and Baron Davis) all with various knee injuries, the depleted Knicks simply didn’t have enough firepower to help Anthony or fellow star forward Amar’e Stoudemire, who was playing his second game with a bandaged left hand after missing Game 3, following an incident in which he frustratingly punched a glass fire extinguisher casing outside the Knicks’ locker room just after Miami’s Game 2 win.
Undermanned, New York suffered through too many misses from reserve guard J.R. Smith, who followed a 5-for-18 performance in Game 3 with a second straight 3-for-15 shooting game from the floor, while four New York starters — Stoudemire (14 points, 4-7 fg); forward Landry Fields (12 points, 5-7 fg); point guard Mike Bibby (ten points, 4-7 fg); and center Tyson Chandler (seven points, 3-6 fg) – shot far less frequently than Smith despite each shooting 50 percent or better from the field.
In the end, the Heat sent the Knicks back home with their fifth straight playoff series loss, dating back to the last time New York won a postseason series, ironically against Miami, in seven games, in the 2000 Eastern Conference semifinals.
Initially, the Knicks, whose four losses in the series were by an average of 18 points, hung tough, taking their biggest lead, 20-14, on a Bibby three-pointer with 4:26 left in the opening quarter. But, five different Heat players scored during a 14-4 quarter-closing run that was started and finished on three-pointers by reserve guard Mike Miller (nine points).
New York never caught Miami again as the Heat gradually built its lead to a comfortable margin for much of the second half.
An Anthony jumper closed the Knicks to within 45-42 with 2:42 left in the first half, but as New York began to get too stagnant, with a lack of ball movement on offense, Wade scored the last five points of the half to cap a 10-2 run that gave Miami a 55-44 halftime lead.
A tip-in by Chandler kept the Knicks close, at 64-56 by the midpoint of the third period, but the Heat essentially put the game away with a 17-9 spurt that extended its lead to 81-65 lead before Anthony beat the third-quarter buzzer with a jumper.
The Knicks fell behind by as much as 19 points and could get no closer than 11 points the rest of the way, as the loss put an end to New York’s tumultuous season.
Following a lockout-induced, shortened training camp, New York endured through what felt like four mini-seasons during one abbreviated and condensed 66-game regular season.
Their year began with a miserable 8-15 start under ex-Knick head coach Mike D’Antoni, which was immediately succeeded by a seven-game winning streak and the emergence of what was prematurely overhyped as the well-known “Lin-sanity” craze, with the unexpected, but short-lived super-stardom of Lin.
Next, came a disappointing 3-9 dip that concluded with a six-game losing streak and D’Antoni’s resignation, in favor of assistant and former Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Woodson, along with a dramatic shift in philosophy from D’Antoni’s up tempo, offensively-focused style to Woodson’s defense-first mindset.
Under Woodson, the Knicks closed the regular season 18-6 to finish 36-30 and post a .545 winning percentage, their best in 11 seasons.
Yet, while that direction is considerably more encouraging than the dismal decade that preceded the arrival of both Anthony and Stoudemire last season, many more questions than answers remain for New York this summer.
Other key injuries (in addition to the aforementioned ones), including ones that caused both Anthony and Stoudemire to miss significant time during the regular season, were factors affecting the team, as is the fact that the current core of the Knicks’ roster has yet to have even close to a typical season – complete with a usual training camp and normal practice time during the regular season to get an accurate assessment of how good the team can actually become.
And, then there’s the question of whether or not that will be determined with Woodson at the helm, who still has an interim tag attached to his name. New York, which locked up Glen Grunwald as its executive vice president and genreal manager on April 24th, would be wise to likewise retain Woodson next year, with only the possible but probably unlikely signing of 11-time NBA champion (as a head coach) Phil Jackson being a better move.
Finally, the Knicks will have to make decisions not only on whether Lin should be the starting point guard next season, but on what to do with Fields and a several members (Smith, Bibby, guards Steve Novak and Baron Davis, forward Jared Jeffries, and center Josh Harrelson) of a bench that will be comprised mostly of free agents this offseason.
Further complicating matters, Davis, after fifteen seasons, will out for about the next twelve months, and Shumpert (not a free agent) is expected to miss a good portion of the beginning of his second season, next year.
Thus, while New York has indeed made some good strides over the past two seasons, it remains very unclear whether or not the Knicks are simply the caliber of the seven seed they were this year or possibly a legitimate Eastern Conference contender as they attempt to address their many questions in the coming months.
In sharp contrast, the Heat knows what it is and what its mission is – with stars like James, Wade, and Bosh grouped together, Miami is in championship or bust mode for a second straight season after losing in the NBA finals with that threesome playing together for the first time last year. Miami will take its next step toward trying to reach its championship goal when it begins its Eastern Conference semifinal series with third-seeded Indiana at home on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Photo by Jonathan Wagner (Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, May 6, 2012)
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