1. Knicks Finally Get LeBron's Number
NEW YORK -- How positively un-Knick-like.
It's one thing to beat the Miami Heat, which the New York Knicks hadn't done in several years. It's another thing to beat a LeBron James team, which hadn't been done in even more years. But to do it with a stingy defensive performance against two of the league's top-five scorers, well, it was just a little more than mildly surprising. And impressive.
Calling it a throwback to the Jeff Van Gundy-Pat Riley bloodball days wouldn't quite be accurate, but the Knicks' 93-88 win over the Heat certainly served as an appetizer to what would be a highly entertaining playoff series. With the Heat currently tied for the second seed in the Eastern Conference and the Knicks sitting sixth, it's a plausible scenario.
The game had some flashes of greatness and oddity, including a performance from Dwyane Wade that genuinely ranked as one of the best of his career. That's a striking statement considering he went 0-of-7 shooting, with only one point, in the fourth quarter.
That's an un-Wade-like finish, which fit the character of what happened in front of a delirious crowd at Madison Square Garden.
The run-and-gun, high-scoring, high-possession, talk-about-defense-but-only-sometimes-play-it Knicks won a game in which they shot 36 percent and scored just 93 points. It was easily the fewest points the team has scored in a victory this season. It was also the first time in 10 tries they'd beaten James and in seven attempts they'd beaten Miami.
It happened with Amare Stoudemire -- the resident MVP chant-getter who earlier in the night was named the Knicks' first All-Star Game starter in 14 years -- not making a single basket in the fourth quarter. And the Knicks won that quarter by 14 points when they only shot 31 percent as a team -- all of this from a squad that had lost six of its past seven games.
The only way any of that's possible is with defense. That's what the Knicks accomplished, defending better than at perhaps any time this season. They held the Heat to 15 points in the fourth quarter, limiting Miami to an eye-popping 5-of-21 shooting from the field.
"We played great defensively from the start," said Stoudemire, who still had 24 points and eight rebounds. "Tonight, we put a total 40-minute game together and got the win."
While pondering where the other eight minutes went from Stoudemire's perspective, know that it wasn't simply great man-to-man combat. The Knicks forced the Heat, who are now in a certified slump with losses in five of the past six games, into their worst habits.
Without Chris Bosh, who was back in Miami nursing a bum ankle, the Heat seem to be a very easy team to switch pick-and-rolls against. The Knicks love to do this anyway because, first, it is easier, and, second, they have the athletes to pull it off.
The Atlanta Hawks did this effectively against the Heat last week, when Bosh was also out, because they had no fear of anyone on the front line causing mismatches. The Heat's only big man logging considerable minutes right now is Joel Anthony, and he doesn't concern anyone offensively.
As a result, the Heat found themselves lured into one-on-one situations and playing into the Knicks' hands. That is how Wade -- who had a career high 16 rebounds and at one point made 13 consecutive shots -- and James repeatedly neutralized their talents.
James had 24 points and Wade had 34, but in the second half, they often cut off their teammates by playing isolation ball. Though that was only part of the issue.
Though Wade was sizzling, going 7-of-7 in the third quarter at his customary shooting guard position, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra moved Wade to point guard to start the fourth quarter. It changed his role, mindset and, as it turned out, killed his mojo.
"They bait you into that game, holding the ball," Spoelstra said. "You iso and try to work the mismatches."
The Knicks also benefited from some timely 3-point shooting from Danilo Gallinari, who made two big shots in the fourth. Rookie Landry Fields was also sensational, with 19 points and 13 rebounds, eight of the points and five of the boards coming in the last 12 minutes.
But that wasn't what concerned the Heat as they started a challenging stretch of four games in five nights. They are now 1-8 in games decided by five points or fewer, and it has happened in each of their past three losses. Of course a large percentage of playoff games are decided by such margins.
"It is not concerning because I think we made the right plays down the stretch," James said. "They made some shots that we didn't make."
That is a true assessment. The Heat rationalized that they executed better than in last week's loss to the Hawks, when the pick-and-roll defense had them hoisting up terrible shots. They ran some plays in crunch time, and James Jones and Mario Chalmers both missed wide-open 3-pointers off quality sets.
But somewhere in the middle of the Knicks' winning a highly uncharacteristic game and the Heat letting another completely winnable game get away, both teams knew they were out of their comfort zones.
For the Knicks, that was unexpected but also very good. For the Heat, facing the most adversity since their lackluster November, it is now worrisome.
"We've been here before and this is when I like being around this group the most," Spoelstra said.
"This is also when we've proved to be our best, when we've faced some adversity. We don't like what is going on right now. We'll get better, I'll tell you that. That is the fabric of this team, the more we see situations the better we get."
2. Celtics Step Forward With Perk
PORTLAND, Ore. -- It was in most respects a fairly perfunctory 88-78 win over an outmanned Portland team for the Celtics on Thursday night, but there is one aspect of this game that has big implications for the season as a whole.
Put simply, Kendrick Perkins was a beast. And if he can return to the lineup as a reasonable facsimile of the Perk of seasons past, it gives Boston another weapon in its quest to regain the championship.
The 6-10 center, who tore two right knee ligaments in Game 6 of the Finals last June and has been recuperating all season, gave the team a big lift off the bench in his second game back from injury with ten points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes. His statistics were good, but the qualitative side was even better. He didn't appear to have issues leaping or running, supplied his usual nails-tough post defense to help thwart Portland's leading scorer, LaMarcus Aldridge, and added healthy dollops of physicality and trash-talking swagger.
So good was Perkins that Boston coach Doc Rivers left him far longer than he'd originally planned in the first half, leaving Perkins weary. But while Perkins said his timing and conditioning are still far from peak level, his knee hasn't been a problem.
"I'm not where I want to be," said Perkins, "but I'm happy where I'm at."
"He was terrific," said Rivers. "I extended his minutes too long, because he was playing so well&. I turned to [trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] and said. "Hey, you gotta tell me.' Eddie said he was good, but Eddie was looking at his legs and I was looking at his lungs."
Perkins' return could also come with benefits for Boston's shooters, as he showed with one of his trademark earth-shattering screens that absolutely leveled Portland's Wesley Matthews. While the play was called an offensive foul, it was indicative of the plays he's been making to set up teammates for the past three seasons.
"He and Kevin [Garnett] are clearly our two best screeners," said Rivers. "Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce] have really been looking forward to him getting back."
Perkins may not play as much in the Celtics' next game on Friday against Phoenix, both because the Suns sometimes play small and because he's on a back-to-back after a long flight, but he's itching for more activity and is likely to get it soon. With Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal both battling injuries of their own, Rivers may continue finding it troublesome to keep Perk's minutes down.
"Hopefully my body won't ache and I'll be good," said Perkins. "I'm just looking forward to playing. I feel like I've been on vacation for six months."
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday's slate of NBA games in Daily Dime Live.
4. Extreme Behavior
Landry Fields, Knicks: Goes for 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists in the 93-88 win over the Heat. If the 2010 draft were to be held again, how high would the 39th pick go? Think the Wiz would punt on Nemanja Bjelica?
Heat's fourth quarter: Isn't it the Heat that turns up the D and suffocates teams in the fourth? Dwyane Wade picked the wrong quarter to go 0-for-7 in the loss to New York. Until the fateful fourth, LeBron's shooting was less than sharp.
TWEET OF THE NIGHT
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"There's no question he's not even close to being Dirk Nowitzki. We've got to keep getting wins and giving him some time."
-- Mavs guard J.J. Barea, taking measure of Dirk Nowitzki's progress in a 111-106 win over Houston.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Airplane Chat With Hollinger
DW (SF, CA): John, if I MUST see one NBA player play in person, who would it be?
John Hollinger: I'm a big Manu Ginobili guy for that, but I've only seen Blake Griffin in person once. Chris Paul is great in person too. ... His game comes across as kinda boring on TV but up close you see it in a different light.
Brett (ATl): Josh Smith in person is something to see (for a variety of reasons).
7. Chandler's Chance
8. Revisiting Game 7
Land O' Lakers
With the Boston Celtics coming to town Sunday afternoon, I fired up Game 7 of last season's NBA Finals on my DVR Wednesday afternoon. I'd never rewatched it in full, and taking it in, six months later in the calm of my living room, makes for a wildly different experience. The context of the day is gone, replaced by a new season and new goals. Without it, Game 7 is sometimes difficult to watch. Inelegantly played, filled with mistakes, painfully ineffective offense, and spotty performances from most of the game's stars. Boston barely cracked the 40 percent mark from the floor, the Lakers didn't get to 33. Plus, they clanged 12 free throws.
9. J.J. Delivers Late
The Mavs made it much harder than it should have been.
They played a phenomenal first half, opening up a 25-point lead, and apparently got complacent during halftime. The Rockets ripped off a 26-6 run during the third quarter to trim the deficit to two points. The Mavs heated up to stretch the lead to double figures again in the fourth quarter, only to see the Rockets rally within one point in the final minute.
But the Mavs managed to never completely blow the lead. For that, they can thank J.J. Barea.
The Mavs played four guys who have made more than $60 million in their careers for most of the fourth quarter. But it was Barea, who has yet to earn $6 million, who kept delivering clutch plays.
Barea, who was coming off a 25-point performance, scored 10 of his 19 points in the final frame. He also finished the third quarter with a tough layup in traffic off a drive. No basket was bigger than Barea's pullup jumper to give the Mavs a bit of breathing room after Rockets forward Luis Scola (30 points) had a putback to cut the Mavs' lead to one in the final minute.