Heat march on toward likely Finals berth, while Knicks face questions
The Heat's 106-94 Game 5 win is proof they're poised for a near certain Finals run
The Knicks' offense was watching Carmelo Anthony, which fails on his off nights
The Knicks face decisions with Mike Woodson, Jeremy Lin and Carmelo-Amar'e
For a season shortened by a lockout, the Knicks' felt like it lasted a lifetime. But the team's mercurial campaign was finally taken off life support Wednesday, when Miami overpowered New York for a 106-94 win and a 4-1 series victory.
It was an inevitable ending for an ultimately flawed team. But since it came at the hands of LeBron James (29 points, eight rebounds and seven assists) and the Heat, few can be surprised. Miami's Game 5 victory is further proof that it's poised for an all-but-certain run to the NBA Finals thanks to a decimated conference. And while the Knicks' struggles will be highlighted in the coming days, the Heat's performance Wednesday likely would have taken down anyone in the East.
By finishing in five, Miami will now have the benefit of resting until Sunday, when its second-round series against Indiana begins at home. The Knicks, meanwhile, return home to face a slew of offseason questions that will linger until next season begins.
Following Amar'e Stoudemire's post-game injury in Game 2, it's only fitting that the glass would come back to extinguish the Knicks in Game 5. New York was outrebounded 23-14 in the first half, giving up 14 second-chance points. The lack of an interior presence led to a 55-44 deficit at halftime, a hole the Knicks never climbed out from. They shot 51.4 percent in the first two quarters but couldn't threaten the lead due to their inability to hold the Heat to single-shot possessions.
Stoudemire's rebounding effort was most glaring, finishing with just four (one in the first half). He put together an impressive 20-10 effort in Game 4 but struggled to find his rhythm in Game 5. Foul trouble didn't do him any favors. He picked up No. 5 after a mental lapse with 6:41 left in the third quarter -- he reached in on Udonis Haslem about 90 feet away from the rim -- and fouled out with 4:48 remaining in the fourth with the outcome already decided.
The Knicks' star big man bowed out with 14 points on just seven shots (Anthony had 31). In the four games Stoudemire played in this series, he only shot more than 10 times once, an efficient 8-of-13 effort in Game 4. He struggled to coexist with Anthony, deferring on possessions or simply not getting the ball on others. But those complacent performances cost the Knicks this series. They needed Stoudemire to produce to win. How can the Knicks compete with the Heat's vaunted "Big Three" when half of their "Big Two" puts up role-player numbers?
New York was able to steal Game 4 behind 41 points from Anthony, but he couldn't muster the same magic in Game 5, despite totaling 35 on 15-of-31 shooting. While Anthony was his brilliant self for stretches on Wednesday, his one-man act couldn't carry the Knicks to another victory.
New York is predestined to live and die by Anthony, but his output became even more critical during this first-round series. With Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis all missing time, more and more of New York's offense centered on watching Anthony and staying out of the way. That's a strategy that seems perfectly sound when the ball is going in, but leaves Knicks critics screaming for originality when it doesn't.
The Heat don't have such problems, thanks to the luxury of James and Dwyane Wade. If one has an off night, the other shoulders the load. If Anthony has an off night, the Knicks lose.
The midseason addition of J.R. Smith undoubtedly boosted the Knicks' offense down the stretch, but it didn't have a positive impact in their five-game series against the Heat. The trigger-happy swingman went 3-of-15 from the field Wednesday and shot just 31.6 percent for the series. The loss of three New York back-court players led to more minutes for Smith (35 in Game 5). Unfortunately for the Knicks, it came during a cold spell for one of the league's streakiest shooters.
Oddly enough, it was Mike Bibby (the victim of friendly ridicule from ex-teammate Wade throughout the series) who the Knicks' backcourt could have used a few more shots from Wednesday. Bibby scored 10 points, eight in an impressive first half, on a more judicial 4-of-7 effort. Smith, on the other hand, had a team-worst minus-20 rating.
It's going to take a monumental effort for someone to derail the Heat's path to the Finals. The Pacers are up next after their relatively simple 4-1 win over the Magic, but the Heat are a different beast. Indiana went 1-3 against Miami during the regular season, with one of the losses coming at the hands of a Wade buzzer-beater in overtime. The other two came by an average of 25 points. It's likely to be a competitive series, but one that ends in Miami's favor.
After that, it's a date with the Celtics, Hawks, 76ers or Bulls. Are any of those teams better than the Pacers, let alone the Heat? Miami wrapped up New York in five games. It's unlikely to waste much time with the rest of the East.
The Knicks enter yet another offseason with more questions than answers. Will they bring Mike Woodson back? Will they re-sign Jeremy Lin? Can the tandem of Anthony and Stoudemire produce a championship? (An annual $40 million question Jim Dolan would love the answer to.)
At times, the Knicks looked like contenders this season, highlighted by February's seven-game winning streak during "Linsanity." But they canceled it out with a seven-game losing streak just a few weeks later, a frustrating up-and-down struggle that was the thesis of their season. New York saved face by snapping a 13-game postseason losing streak in Game 4, but the series was over after the Knicks lost the first three games, a hole no one has ever climbed out of in a seven-game series over 102 attempts.
New York closed the season 18-6 but did so with Stoudemire and Lin mostly in street clothes, not featured roles. The first-round exit only brings up more questions about the chemistry and potential of its star tandem.
With the Nets moving to Brooklyn, the Knicks might feel compelled to make a splash this summer and steal some thunder from their New York neighbors. It's unlikely to involve Anthony. The same can't be said for everyone else.