MIAMI -- The New York Knicks threw everything at LeBron James, including a vile Tyson Chandler forearm into his upper back, and nothing could stop the self-acclaimed Chosen One from choosing to make a mockery of the assault.
On a day they added injury (Iman Shumpert's) to insult (a staggering 100-67 defeat), the Knicks watched James muscle his way through a defense exposed by Chandler's flu-ridden state. The center was so useless in Game 1 on Saturday that he abandoned his professional approach and delivered a cheap shot right out of that old, reliable Knicks-Heat handbook.
P.J. Brown flipping Charlie Ward upside down. Alonzo Mourning trading heavyweight hooks with Larry Johnson. Jeff Van Gundy putting a choke hold on Mourning's ankle. All these years later, Chandler's blind pick honored a rivalry that belongs in helmets and pads, a rivalry that might see its first playoff romp now that Shumpert is down and out for six to eight months with a shredded knee.
Without any contact in the third quarter, the rookie grabbed his left knee, collapsed onto the court and cried in pain. Shumpert needed to be carried off the floor, and his loss to a torn ACL and lateral meniscus will be felt across the balance of this series, however long it lasts.
But James had already established the early first-round tone, shaking off Chandler's second-quarter hit, and the Knicks, with the greatest of ease. LeBron scored 23 of his 32 points in the first half and left everyone on the losing side with this alarming question:
If their superstar could do that to our defense, why couldn't our superstar do at least half of that to theirs?
"It's a bad feeling," said Carmelo Anthony, who missed 12 of 15 shots, and finished with a lousy 11 points and four turnovers.
At least Chandler had an excuse for losing his mind, for committing four offensive fouls in the first half. He was sick. It's no fun going to work when you're sick.
Anthony was perfectly healthy when he staged his no-show at the worst possible time.
"I've got to do a lot of things better," he said. "My shot wasn't falling; I turned the ball over. It was just one of those days. ... I have to make some major adjustments come Monday."
Maybe it doesn't matter anymore what Anthony can or cannot do against James and the other active defenders Miami will run at him. Maybe Shumpert's injury eliminated any remote chance the Knicks had of scoring a best-of-seven upset, just like Derrick Rose's own devastating knee injury eliminated any shot Chicago had of winning it all.
The Knicks were already undermanned against Miami before losing Shumpert, their best perimeter defender. They had nobody to stop James, nobody to stop the Heat from reducing this to a glorified varsity-jayvee scrimmage.
It was 30-29 in the middle of the second quarter before, Mike Woodson said, "all hell broke loose." The Heat scored 32 of the next 34 points, and suddenly the notion of tanking games to face Chicago in the first round didn't seem like such an ignoble thought.
LeBron James, the leader of Miami's Redeem Team tour, the megastar desperate for his first championship ring, made the Knicks look small and weak.
"He's on a mission," Woodson said.
Melo should be on a mission, too. He won his NCAA title at Syracuse, but his past Nuggets and Knicks teams lost in the first round of the playoffs seven times in eight trips.
Anthony has never reached the Finals, so yes, he should be playing with LeBron's passion and purpose. But when James fronted him in the post and when Miami sent help on lobs over the top, Anthony had no clue what to do.
"Our strategy and system worked for Game 1," LeBron said.
Melo missed his first seven shots and didn't score a basket until 22 minutes had bled from the clock. A half-minute later, Chandler committed his flagrant foul on James, who went down hard, grabbed his neck and stumbled about the court in apparent agony before paying back the Knicks with the final nine points of the half.
James was at the very top of his game, making 10 of 14 shots and taking more free throws (14) than the Knicks took as a whole (11).
"He got it going early," Anthony said. "The good thing he did was he got to the free throw line. He got a rhythm at the line, got some calls going his way, and then he made some shots. Once you get a rhythm like that, your shots are going to start falling and start coming from everywhere."
Anthony should know. He was the league's leading scorer in April, averaging 29.8 points over 12 games. Melo dropped 42 on the Heat in the Garden and appeared primed for a big series, if not a winning one.
Only James and the rest threw him something of a curve Saturday. "No," Anthony said, "I wasn't expecting that."
The Heat fronted him into oblivion, and afterward Anthony promised to study the films and counter Miami's adjustments with some of his own.
"But most importantly for me and my teammates," he said, "we just want to remain positive. The fun starts now."
On the losing side, Game 1 was nobody's idea of fun. Baron Davis' back acted up, Chandler should have stayed in bed and the Heat allowed Steve Novak a mere two looks at the rim. Meanwhile, James and Shane Battier were making like walk-ons trying to catch their coach's eye; they staged a contest to see which guy could draw the most offensive fouls.
LeBron was playing through contact, playing through the Chandler hit and a hard foul from Amare Stoudemire, who managed a grand total of two baskets in 32 minutes. Of course, the most depressing Knicks development involved Shumpert, a kid who deserved better.
"My prayers go out to him," Anthony said.
The Knicks star said his team would recover and fast. Even the conquering James suggested his counterpart would emerge a much stronger foe in Game 2.
"He's going to make adjustments," LeBron said of Anthony, "like all great players do."
Anthony needs to be a great player Monday night and beyond. If he fails, this edition of Knicks-Heat won't require the winner-take-all game that defined the four death matches that preceded it.
Not even close. A mediocre Melo means his team won't be taking its talents back to South Beach next week.