Through three quarters on Friday night, the New York Knicks had all but wrapped up a win against the early Eastern Conference favorite Miami Heat. In the 104-84 win, the Knicks proved they are the team from the East with the best blueprint at knocking off Miami when it counts.
New York was able to do all of this without Amar'e Stoudemire, who's nursing a knee injury that could sideline him for six to eight weeks. Matching up Carmelo Anthony at power forward opposite the Heat's lineup that includes LeBron James at the same position, the Knicks outplayed Miami for most of the evening.
Using a three-point onslaught and completely neutralizing the Heat bench, the Knicks were able to take an 18-point lead into the fourth quarter. Miami made it close to start the fourth, but the final still reflects how badly lopsided this game really was.
The Knicks shot 19-of-36 from downtown, a sparkling 52.8 percent in a league where 35 is considered pretty good. Contested, wide open or in transition, it didn't matter, as all the New York marksmen took a turn gunning down the Heat.
Ray Allen struggled opposite J.R. Smith. Steve Novak outclassed anyone who tried to slow him down from the outside, and Tyson Chandler helped keep Chris Bosh at bay while also captaining this defense for most of the evening.
No doubt, the Knicks played a complete game.
As noted by ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the three-point shooting was the difference both in this game and last season in the first round of the playoffs.
Knicks made 25 3-pointers total in the 5-game series with Heat last spring. They have made 13 tonight with 3 min. left in 3Q.— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) November 3, 2012
While that number might be an anomaly when looking at the future matchups, these teams are bound to play, the defense effort of the Knicks all night was not.
Led by Chandler and Jason Kidd, two members of the Dallas Mavericks 2011 championship team that knocked off Miami, and surprise starter Ronnie Brewer, the Knicks made things tough on a Heat bench that was supposed to finally be a strength this season.
As noted by ESPN Stats and Info, the first half was extremely unkind to coach Erik Spoelstra's reserves, and one of the reasons the score was in New York's favor at the break.
The Heat's Big 3 of Wade, James & Bosh combined to score 37 of Miami's 44 1st-half points vs Knicks (Trail 55-44 at half)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 3, 2012
Not only is Mike Woodson's team hungry to prove the loss of Jeremy Lin doesn't affect this team's fortunes, it is equally eager to prove that this current makeup of aging talent can compete with one of the league's best and most athletic teams.
We've known for two years that one of the basis of stopping the Heat attack is keeping them from getting out in transition. Miami had just 10 on Friday night.
Chandler and Kidd are two players who know what it takes to beat Miami. Kidd is already bringing his veteran savviness to a team with an established point guard in Raymond Felton, and he's also one of the most underrated defenders in the league (in spurts).
Additionally, the small-ball lineup this team has been forced into has worked extremely well. Stoudemire is a weapon that's worth $100 million, but the Knicks have been a more complete team when Amar'e isn't in the starting lineup.
When he returns, I contend that he should stay on the bench, joining the conversation of the league's highest-paid and most valuable big men. If the Knicks are playing like this every night, it makes no sense to reinsert Stoudemire to a lineup where he takes looks away from shooters.
Matching up Anthony, who had a brilliant game with 30 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the three-point line, with James is a move most teams in the league won't be able to make. The power forward position is entrenched with seven-foot behemoths across the league, almost all of whom can't guard the reigning league MVP.
But New York's small-ball lineup gives Miami a run for its money, specifically in the two key areas that the Heat can't afford to lose—center and wherever LeBron is playing.
There is a lot of emotion in New York right now. With a target on their backs, the Heat know every team is geared up to give them the fight of their lives. It was the season opener for a team with some major revenge still lingering, and the home crowd at Madison Square Garden was rocking all night.
It's extremely early, but give Woodson and this coaching staff a pat on the back for a great game plan and even better execution, even if the Stoudemire injury forced their hand.
We'll have to see if the Knicks can duplicate this kind of performance when they travel to Miami on Dec. 6, the second of four scheduled meetings between the two teams in the regular season.
But to start the season, it appears the blueprint has been laid out for how to dethrone the champs. The Knicks have it on display in the Garden, and you can bet other teams will look for ways to duplicate this early success.
Ethan Grant is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, covering both the NBA and the Dallas Mavericks and is also a member of the site's Breaking News Team.