On Grantland yesterday, Robert Mays wrote about how strangely quiet the buzz around the Miami Heat has been this year. Considering they were the central traveling road show in sports last year — even if they were mostly popular because of how much fun it was to boo that traveling road show — they've been muted all year, even though they have the best record in the NBA and, oh yeah, have three of the brightest superstars in the game. But they've been overshadowed this year, by the lockout, by Chris Paul and, most of all, by Linsanity. Last night, in the league's showcase nationally televised game right before the All-Star Break, they made sure everyone paid attention. They, for one night, put Linsanity in its place.
The Heat overwhelmed the Knicks last night 102-88 with swarming, oppressive, suffocating defense, consisting of stifling the Knicks' signature pick-and-roll and, most effectively, essentially gang-tackling Jeremy Lin every time he touched the ball. The Heat clearly place the highest priority on stopping Lin — wisely, considering how poor the Knicks' offense has looked when Lin isn't leading it — and it worked. Lin was held to eight points, the fewest he has scored since taking over the team less than a month ago. He actually scored that many points in six minutes in a game back in January. He also had eight points and looked disoriented, flustered and exhausted all night. If you ever wondered what the league's best defensive team, with all-world athletes like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, would look like focusing all its defensive attention on a kid who was playing for the Erie Bayhawks a month ago, this is what it looks like. There were many times during the game when we found ourselves compelled to yell at the screen, "Leave him alone, you bullies! He's just a boy!"
All told, it's actually sort of impressive the Knicks didn't get wiped out, considering the Heat messed up everything they had offensively and unleashed all sorts of third-quarter scoring hell, thanks in large part to James's potentially dominant decision to expand his post-up game this offseason, the one part of his game he hasn't mastered. (Yeah, yeah, we don't like him either, but he's the unquestioned MVP so far this year.) This was largely thanks to the second unit, which held its own — impressive in its own right considering how lost the Knicks have consistently looked with Lin out this year. Baron Davis is looking more spry — even if he couldn't shoot a lick last night (0-for-7) — and bench shooters Steve Novak and J.R. Smith are potential game savers every night (6-for-10 from beyond the arc last night). Carmelo Anthony didn't have a great shooting night either, but he's beginning to round a little more into 'Melo shape, and the times he took over in isolation last night were reasonable, considering how clogged up the pick-and-roll offense was.
But this game was about Lin, and how the Heat completely shut him down. Sebastian Pruiti broke down how teams have been trying to stop Lin yesterday, and the Heat used all of those and probably a few more techniques no one had thought of yet. Lin's numbers last night were a horror show: 8 points on 1-of-11 shooting, 3 assists, 8 turnovers. It is honestly a wonder the Knicks didn't lose by 30. Coach Mike D'Antoni blamed a lot of Lin's struggles on being exhausted, on having "no legs," and Lin himself pointed out that, "I can't remember another game where it was hard to just take dribbles." The Heat put every ounce of their energy last night into stopping Linsanity last night. And that's exactly what they did.
The Knicks head into the All-Star Break one game under .500 and, handily, with a lot of days off coming up. They have only one game in the next nine days, at home against Cleveland on Wednesday, before a brutal road trip to Boston, Dallas, San Antonio and Milwaukee. They need some rest, they need some practice, they need some time for everyone to just chill out on Linsanity, on everything, for a while. But mostly, they need Lin to learn from this game. As Knickerblogger put it:
Lin needed this game like a surgeon needs that one under-the-knife patient to not quite make it. Any paparazzi lucky enough to catch a window-washing scaffold up to whatever floor houses Lin’s plush new digs will likely be treated to hours upon hours of Lin — face two inches from the screen — watching this footage over and over and over again.
That sounds exactly right. And we have no doubt that's precisely what Lin will be doing. The Knicks have one game against the Heat this season, at the Garden, on April 15. It will be fascinating what happens to both teams between now and then and what sort of adjustments Lin can make then. Last night made it abundantly clear that, yep, there are plenty of adjustments to be made.