Carmelo Anthony was having a terrible series up until Game 3. But then, he saw Shane Battier guarding him in crunch time and not LeBron James. With Amare Stoudemire at his side, Anthony scored 41 point, leading the New York Knicks to their first playoff win in 11 years.
You’ll find few people (outside of New York) giving the Knicks a chance to come up with a second win, but after the first three games, after the last 12 season in which the Knicks have lost 13 consecutive playoff games, making this first round series against the clearly superior Heat into somewhat competitive again is a good start.
Anthony struggled through the first three games, attempting more field goals than scoring points. In game 4, he exploded, while Shane Battier struggled with keeping Carmelo out of his comfort zone and posting up on him to create shots he likes. He also went to the line 14 times, making 10 shots. He finished with 41 points, shooting 15-29 from the field.
It was pretty much a two man show for New York. Amare finished with 20 points, the only other player in double figures, not looking too dismayed despite his injured hand. He made eight of 13 field goal attempts, finally getting more balls and opportunities on offense. If there’s any rift between the Knicks’ two stars, it wasn’t evident on the floor on Sunday night.
The most whopping stat was J.R. Smith, the only other player on the Knicks to attempt more than five shots. He didn’t heed his terrible game 3 (5-18, 27.8%) and went on to deliver an even worse shooting performance, with 3-15 (20%) and scoring 7 points. The Heat did what they should have on the defensive side of the ball as a team, although putting LeBron on Chandler was probably a mistake (Anthony is 12-41 with James guarding him in the series), but couldn’t really score off the break and in volumes.
Here is where the Chandler effect comes to play. True, the Heat weren’t as aggressive as they could and should be, but Chandler, despite only 1 under his blocking stat line, didn’t win DPOY for nothing. He changes shots, he clogs the lane, and his presence and leadership is what pushes Knicks players to work hard on defense. It’s not Carmelo and Stoudemire, who usually put in a minimal defensive effort.
The Heat shot too much from beyond the arc. Making only 3-19, a terrible 15.8%. But there was something tired, maybe even lazy about how the Heat played offense. Not willing to push and scrape through, settling for jumpers too many times. On the final play to tie the game, Dwyane Wade was cleared for the shot but mishandled the ball instead of pulling up. As usual, someone will have to say something about how the Heat perform when the game is on the line with seconds left.
LeBron James scored 27 points, but wasn’t as dominant and forceful as the Heat need him to be. It’s not only about the three pointers, but it’s partly that. James averages 2.1 three point attempts when the Heat win. In losses, it goes up to 3.2 from beyond the arc. His percentage stays the same, but that leads to drawing free throws. James simply gets more to the line when he attacks the basket.
The Heat are at their best when they drive to the basket, especially James. It creates more opportunities for the rest of the supporting crew, who were 1-14 from beyond the arc on Sunday. The Heat are at their best when James guards Anthony. There’s no plan B on the New York offense. Just give it to Carmelo and see how he handles the isolation. If he actually gives up on the shot, wing it from there. There’s no reason to stop doing what worked so well for three games.