MIAMI ROAD TRIP: PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999
That phone call was the inspiration for what became a week-long trip back to my old stomping grounds in Miami, starting last Monday in Coral Gables, continuing most of the week in South Beach and ending this past Sunday in American Airlines Arena.
I have so many thoughts on this game that I just had to document them. Some of them are poignant;, some of them are rambling and incoherent; all of them are somehow related to the Knicks’ 91-86 throwback victory over the Heat.
1. I’m not saying it affected the way they played, but I know for a fact that two prominent Heat players were at Liv in the Fountain Bleu on Friday night until at least 4 a.m. when I left.
They had just ordered something like their fifth round of four bottles of champagne and were showing no signs of leaving. Not sure if either one of them was even drinking it (it was absolutely impossible to even get into their section, but you could get pretty close to it), but uh—they probably had a shootaround to get to or something the next day.
2. LeBron’s over-the-head pass to Erick Dampier in the first quarter was unlike anything I’d ever seen on a basketball floor in person.
I had never seen LeBron play live until going to two Heat games this week (I went Tuesday against the Kings also).
It’s almost indescribable.
The things he does don’t look to be humanly possible—even as he’s doing them. You could see in his body movement as the ball was in the air that he was gonna try to throw the ball backwards over his head, you just didn’t expect it to actually work.
And then it did. Unreal.
Of course, he followed that up with an absolutely bonkers left-handed alley-oop slam off a terrible lob pass from Dwyane Wade which almost brought the entire (65 percent full) house down.
3. Speaking of… Man, what an embarrassing crowd.
There were so many empty seats. Not sure if they were talking about it on the telecast, but I know in ESPN’s game recap they made it seem as though the place was packed, but it wasn’t even close.
It seemed like the crowd was 50 percent Heat “fans," 50 percent Knicks fans—and if it wasn’t, the Knicks' fans were certainly louder.
The boos droned out the “M-V-P” chants when LeBron was at the free throw line in the fourth quarter. There was a shockingly loud “DE-FENSE” chant in the fourth quarter on a big possession, and a thunderous “NEW YORK KNICKS!” chant broke out both inside and outside American Airlines Arena at the end of the game.
The things Knicks Fans got away with inside that arena—I mean, if a Heat “fan” tried that in Madison Square Garden, let’s just say the Knicks season ticket holders might’ve had a problem with it.
4. I hung around for a few extra minutes after the game and went down to get a picture with Spike Lee (who was—amazingly—T’d up during the game, although they credited the call to Chauncey Billups), but the American Airlines Arena employees kicked us out of the arena when I was next in line. Instead, I got a fist bump and a “See you in New York” from the Knicks’ biggest fan.
5. In the first half in general—and the first quarter especially—the Heat were finding Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers and James Jones for wide open threes and they were knocking them down.
When LeBron, Wade, and Bosh started looking for more one-on-one offense in the second and third quarters, the shooters got cold, and when called upon later in the game, they couldn’t deliver.
New York's defense really clamped down. Shawne Williams and Bill Walker both defended LeBron and Wade extremely well for stretches of the game. Shawne did this to LeBron in the previous Knicks-Heat game as well, when LeBron was so incredibly and obviously off with his jumpers, but seemed determined to prove he could score on Shawne.
Carmelo’s defense on LeBron down the stretch was great—LeBron still had 27 points by the way; he’s just an unstoppable freak. After a disastrous stretch of playing time in the first half, Anthony Carter did a nice job on Wade in the second half; including one really nice from-behind block leading to a fast break layup.
6. Amar’e and Carmelo still have no idea how to play together. That will come with time.
I’d like to see them in more pick-and-roll situations with Melo as the ball handler. Or with one of them on the low block and the other in the high post, so if the post man is doubled it’s a wide-open jumper for the other.
Right now, because teams have been trapping Chauncey Billups on the pick-and-roll to force him into early decisions, “post-up Carmelo on the right block” is the Knicks’ best play. If Amar’e is right free-throw line extended, and Chauncey Billups is on the weak side, Melo either has a one-on-one in the post, a drive-and-kick to Amar’e for a 15-footer, or a skip pass to Billups for an open three.
We haven’t really seen Amar’e and Melo operating on the same side of the court yet. One of the few times they did, it resulted in a backdoor cut and dunk for Carmelo on a nice feed from Amar’e.
7. In just three games, Chauncey Billups has already begun climbing on my list of favorite Knicks. He’s so smart and so strong.
So much has been said about it already in the wake of this game, but I can’t get over how much I (and most people) underestimated how he would perform in this offense.
There have been some out there making the joke, “Remember when we got that guy Carmelo in the Chauncey Billups trade?." But I’m super-glad we got this guy.
I did like the way Raymond Felton played for this team—even if I was harder on him than most—but Chauncey is definitely an upgrade.
Every time the Heat took a lead, Chauncey made a play to make sure they couldn’t stretch it too far. He hit a huge three to spark the 16-0 run that ended the second quarter. He hit another clutch three in the fourth, stole Bosh’s wayward pass and then found a streaking Shawne Williams for a (missed) layup and two free throws. He made so many little plays throughout the game that kept the Knicks around.
8. For most of this season, a lot of conversation centered on how the Knicks did not have sufficient assets to be able to trade for Carmelo Anthony. Many analysts didn't make much sense to me when they described the Carmelo trade as a huge loss for the Knicks.
The same guys who had been saying that unproven rookie Derrick Favors and four unknown-value future first-round picks (one belonging to the Lakers, and another protected pick belonging to the Warriors turn into two second-rounders in a few years) was a MUCH better deal than what the Knicks were offering were now claiming that the Knicks gave up way too much for Carmelo.
The Denver Post even went as far as saying Gallo could REPLACE CARMELO. Nuggets fans on message boards all have taken a liking to Gallo and Chandler already.
9. The Nuggets insisted that the Knicks include Timofey Mozgov in the trade. Mozgov has yet to play in three games since the trade. The Knicks insisted that they receive Corey Brewer in the trade. Brewer has yet to play in the three games since the trade, and is expected to be bought out.
10. Renaldo Balkman is useless. Don’t want to see him on the court. I’d rather see Shelden Williams. I’d rather see Bill Walker. I’d rather have seen Corey Brewer. I’d rather see former/future Knick Jared Jeffries. I would not rather see Roger Mason.
11. Winning a game when you shoot 38.8% from the field is damned impressive. The defensive effort was absolutely off the charts.
This is the kind of win you can get when you just try. If Amar’e and Carmelo bring the defensive intensity that they brought Sunday to every single game, the Knicks will be a very dangerous team for a long time.
A lot of people consider these guys to just be bad defenders and dismiss any impact they may have at that end of the court—but they both stepped up big time and proved that to be untrue.
12. Some plus/minus numbers for everyone out there: Wade: 0, Bosh: 0, LeBron: -3; Amar’e: +4, Chauncey: +5, Carmelo: +11, Bill Walker: +22.
13. The Knicks somehow did not shoot a free throw in the second half until 2:51 remaining in the fourth quarter. The refs in this game were horrible. How Amar’e Stoudemire doesn’t go to the free-throw line once in the entire game is inexplicable. He was HAMMERED on that layup which cut the lead to 82-78 with 3:18 to go and it was uncalled.
14. Bill Walker had a great game. Had to single him out. It seemed like he had about 40 rebounds (he actually had 7 in 25 minutes), he hit a huge bank three to end the first half and he played some good defense on both LeBron and Wade for stretches. Loved his performance.
15. Landry Fields, Ronny Turiaf, and Toney Douglas did not have good games at all. Landry went a very un-Landry 1-8 from the field, Turiaf did pretty much nothing and Douglas again struggled to command the offense with Billups off the floor, which led to Mike D’Antoni dusting off Anthony Carter for a run.
16. Not sure why the Heat didn’t go to Chris Bosh down the stretch more often. He had a really strong game. Most power forwards dominate the Knicks anyway, and he did it too.
LeBron could have hit Bosh on the roll on the play where he was blocked by Stoudemire, but took it himself. LeBron also had Wade open for a jumper the next play, but decided to rise and fire himself—and missed again.
And that’s it for now. I’ve got to say it was maybe the most enjoyable Knick win I’ve ever been to. I’ll never forget this night for the rest of my life.
It was the renewal of a great rivalry. We got a great road win. I (kind of) met Spike Lee. I can’t wait to see what this team is capable of going forward, and I’m really excited about the possibility of a first-round matchup with the Heat.
Here’s to being the ones who stand in their way as they look for “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” NBA championships, as LeBron announced on stage at the Big 3’s unveiling smoke show in July.
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