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IF ANY TEAM HAD APPROACHED THE HEAT'S CIRCUS OF HYPE IN the nearly two years since the Big Three's amalgamation, it was their first-round playoff opponents, the Knicks. In the preceding 15 months New York had traded for Carmelo Anthony, sputtered to start the lockout-shortened season and then spent a magical fortnight watching Jeremy Lin, a former waiver-wire D-Leaguer, play alchemist with an injury-riddled roster to restore Madison Square Garden as the center of the NBA universe.
But by the time the series arrived, the narrative had shifted. Lin was sidelined by a meniscus injury, and the focus returned to Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire, a once explosive scorer who'd lost his burst to wear, tear and knee repair. The dissonant stars had been initially paired in an attempt to counter Miami's triumvirate—"We're going to hunt in South Florida," Stoudemire had brashly declared last December—but as this series showed, the Knicks were not nearly up to that task.
The beginning foretold the end—even with Chris Bosh hobbled by a hamstring injury and Dwyane Wade diminished by a dislocated finger, the Heat cruised to a 23-point first-half lead en route to a 100--67 home win in Game 1. LeBron James (32 points, 71.4% shooting) thoroughly out-dueled Anthony and Stoudemire (5 for 22 combined from the field).
A team effort in Game 2—James, Wade and Bosh came together for 65 points and were aided by double-digit scoring efforts from support staffers Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and Mike Miller—secured another comfortable victory. That defeat proved too much for Stoudemire, who bloodied his hand punching a glass-encased fire extinguisher after the game and would be forced to miss Game 3.
Still, the Knicks, playing at home, showed life in that game and took a four-point lead into halftime. James, however, shook off foul and turnover trouble to score 17 fourth-quarter points in what became a resounding 17-point Heat victory.
New York rallied in Game 4, earning a temporary stay with an 89--87 win on the efforts of Anthony's 41 points, but three days later the Heat delivered the fatal blow in Miami, dominating the game with determined defense and another balanced attack. James flirted with a triple double, Wade and Bosh contributed 19 points apiece and three other Heat players chipped in at least nine points each. With the ensuing 106--94 Game 5 victory, the East's second seed marched on.
For some fans the series' lasting memory may be Stoudemire's outburst-injury, which inspired one New York Daily News scribe to begin his story with the line, "It wasn't just the Heat, it was the stupidity." But of course, it was the Heat. "Miami is a very good team," a chastened Stoudemire conceded upon elimination, and the simple statement contained the series' most important truth.