After a blowout loss to the Heat at home just a couple weeks ago, little was expected from the Knicks as they (eventually) flew to Miami to take on the Heat again.
To just about everyone's surprise, the Knicks put up quite a resilient fight during a loss of which most people expected. The 106-98 final score (showing how close it really was) only tells part of the story.
The Heat's "Big Three" definitely came to play: Dwyane Wade scorched the Knicks for a season high 40 points, LeBron James chased another triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists, and Chris Bosh impressed with 18 points and 10 rebounds. The Knicks, however, showed up as ready as they could, attempting to keep pace with the Heat.
If it were just the "Big Three" that the Knicks had to deal with, perhaps they might have won, as they came prepared to combat the offensive onslaught.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, two players (who they seemed not to account for) stepped up for the Heat in a big way.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Joel Anthony, two thirds of Miami's "three-headed monster" at center took apart the Knicks on both ends of the court.
Ilgauskas (the former lifelong Cavalier who followed LeBron to Miami) erupted for 14 points and 10 rebounds in just 14 minutes, notching 10 of those points and pulling down 9 of his rebounds in the first quarter alone. It was his early spurt that put the Heat ahead early, causing the Knicks to play catch up the rest of the way.
The Knicks actually were impressively able to keep the pace and trade baskets the rest of the game with the Heat, but the early lead was too difficult to overcome. Furthermore, every time the Knicks inched closer, the Heat's "Big Three" would emerge again to shrink the team back to size.
Perhaps it would have been easier for the Knicks to mount a successful comeback if Joel Anthony were not pestering Amar'e Stoudemire all game long. Anthony spent a season-high 33 minutes on the court playing rather effective defense despite Stoudemire's 30 points.
Anthony's physical play even sparked Stoudemire's ninth technical foul of the season---he will be fined and suspended for one game without pay if he reaches sixteen for the season.
Needless to say, it was in fact Anthony, whom Canadian National Team coach Leo Rautins told Knicks Journal earlier this month would prove to be a key part of the Heat's success this season.
The Heat's early lead, along with some late key missed free throws by the Knicks, and an off game by Landry Fields (who shot 1-7 from the field and whose good play often leads to good things for the team) essentially all factored in during the loss.
Truth of the matter is, aside from a few mistakes, the Knicks played the Heat well. After all, the Heat have won 15 of their last 16, defeating the champion-defending Lakers on Christmas day during the streak.
This is a loss from which the Knicks can take away positives, as well as hopefully learn from in time for their game against the Magic on Thursday.