Then the Heat pieced together a few highlight-reel plays, got some deep baskets and locked up a 2-0 lead in the series with a 104-94 win.
With LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on a march toward the title they once conspired to get, the Knicks are somewhat of an afterthought in this series, especially after being blown out 100-67 in the first game. New York teetered into the playoffs, and not many people expect the team that had a different identity every month this season to make a dent.
But really, competing with the Heat is not the main concern. What matters now is how New York's performance in the playoffs will affect what the team looks like next year and beyond.
This season — and now two postseason games worth of falling short — only shows that this Knicks team is an experiment best abandoned.
The travails in New York so far this year have been well-documented. It started with Amar'e Stoudemire, who came to the Knicks as the big free agent acquisition after New York was quickly passed over in the LeBron James hunt. Stoudemire looked to shoulder a team that was a mess of young players, discarded salaries and organizational shakiness after the Isiah Thomas era, and he was a good fit for a while. Paired with coach Mike D'Antoni, the Knicks were becoming a fast-paced, athletic team. But Stoudemire was never seen as a big enough star to build around, and, when Carmelo Anthony got antsy with the Denver Nuggets, New York leadership began to reach.
The idea of Anthony going to the Knicks circulated for months, so when it did finally happen, there wasn't much shock and disappointment. But Anthony's arrival also quietly undid a lot of the good things the Knicks had going for them, such as a strong group of young players. Those guys ended up with the Nuggets, and the Knicks ended up with two All-Stars who play similar positions leading the team.
Stoudemire and Anthony could have easily turned on each other, but bigger problems afflicted the Knicks. As Anthony and Stoudemire tried to find ways for their games to fit the team and each other, D'Antoni had to deal with a cast of players who weren't prime for his system.
That's where New York stood entering the 2011-2012 season, which quickly degenerated into a five- or six-act play. The opening scene was of New York dysfunction, with a group of players absolutely not built to be a team failing to find a way to even play. Another scene included the ascendance of Anthony, while other acts showed what the Knicks could be with either Anthony or Stoudemire sidelined. All was compelling evidence that this Knicks group would never work well with all of its pieces forced together.
An exciting new character came on onstage just before intermission and kept the season interesting for a bit (that's right — Jeremy Lin), but even that wasn't good enough to last. When Anthony returned to play (or, failed to play) with the new, Lin-led team after injury, things got even worse. D'Antoni left, knowing he couldn't control the team as it was built. Even Lin's injury seemed to be a fitting transition in a season that showed that, no matter the promise, the Knicks could not be consistent at any length.
Now, with interim coach Mike Woodson looking like he's steadied the ship, the Knicks are in the playoffs. But the problems of the regular season have appeared on the court in Miami, where Anthony has no trouble shouldering the team — but the rest of the players look lost in the action. The Knicks are showing brilliance in offensive bits, and the team is putting up some strong defense, but New York has no cohesive plan for sustained success. Any success in this playoff series can only be considered a coincidental peak, like the crests and troughs of New York's uneven season.
The New York Knicks, as they are built right now, are not going to win at any length. Anthony and Stoudemire are nothing near complementary players. (Some have even suggested that Stoudemire needs to start coming off the bench, a suspicious way to treat a player brought in to lead the franchise.) Furthermore, it's misguided to think that Lin will work well with an Anthony-led offense, as shown by the difficulty the Knicks had meshing the styles when Anthony came back from injury. Finally, putting aside the players that have blossomed in New York and are worth keeping around, the Knicks have dead weight that will have to be shed going into next season (Mike Bibby, Baron Davis). It makes no sense to try to make the team function now when so much of it needs to be adjusted.
The success the Knicks have had this year has been due to sporadic alignment of talent and teamwork, and that can't be trusted going forward. So, instead of battling it out with the Heat and imagining that winning a few in this series — or, dreaming big, that the Knicks could move past the Heat — New York needs to adjust its expectations and see whether any of its methods of attack can give the team long-term success.
Chances are that Anthony, Stoudemire or Lin will have to go, not to mention a rejiggering of the supporting cast. If this is going to be Anthony's team, give it to him for the rest of the series. If Stoudemire is the man, work the offense through him. If management likes what Linsanity did for the Knicks for that beautiful hiatus in the middle of the regular season, then hand Lin the reins if he can make it back from injury for a game or two.
Whatever the Knicks do, though, they shouldn't be patting themselves on the back for a solid effort against the Heat. Even a blind squirrel finds the nut, a broken clock is right twice a day, and the Knicks can pull off crazy wins once in a while.
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