It was at that point that they got a spirited effort and a much-needed energy jolt from the man that was once the leader of their renaissance.
Finally, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony won a playoff game. And in some ways, it was fitting. Before the series began, I made the somewhat obvious assertion that Anthony can’t beat the Heat by himself. And that was painfully obvious in Game 3.
The Knicks would win Game 4, 89-87, and although Carmelo Anthony scored 41 huge points on 15 mostly timely field goals, Stoudemire gets my game ball.
Through the first half of Game 4, the Knicks looked the same way they looked in Game 3. Their offense was stagnant, they looked lethargic, and the “World’s Most Famous Arena” was dormant. Stoudemire was the lone bright spot in that first half, and it was his five straight points at a critical time in the third quarter that closed the aforementioned 11-point lead to a more manageable six.
It was only than that everyone began to believe that the Knicks had a shot.
Anthony and Stoudemire would combine for 18 points in that pivotal third quarter, and although ‘Melo hit the big shots down the stretch of the fourth, the 1-2 punch of the Knicks ended the game with a combined 61 points on 23-of-42 field goal shooting. They also collectively grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out five assists. Together, they ended the Knicks’ 13-game playoff losing streak.
The Knicks still trail the series 3-1 and probably won’t be able to dig out of the 0-3 hole they dug themselves. But in Game 4, we got a glimpse of a few things that the Knicks can do to give themselves a fighting chance against the Miami Heat.
Here they are:
- Give Stoudemire Isolation Opportunities Against Udonis Haslem
After receiving an epidural injection back in early April, Stoudemire has returned and has looked much better than he did during the early portion of the season. Although his explosiveness is still a bit lacking, his lateral quickness is much improved and his midrange shooting has seemed to improve. What was obvious in Game 4 was that Udonis Haslem had much more trouble containing Stoudemire than Chris Bosh did. It’s quite unlikely that coach Erik Spoelstra will have Bosh guard Stoudemire for 35 minutes on Game 5, so coach Mike Woodson would be wise to allow Stoudemire the opportunity to go at Haslem whenever the opportunity presents itself. If the midrange jumper is falling, things could open up for everyone—including Anthony.
- Play High-Low From the Free-Throw Line To the Lower Box
One of the worst kept secrets in the NBA is that the Miami Heat’s frontline is devoid of any real intimidation. With all due respect to Joel Anthony, Dwyane Wade is the Heat’s best rim protector, and one of the league’s most intimidating frontlines shouldn’t be afraid of attacking a 6’4″ guard—no matter how great he is. The Knicks made plenty of over-the-top entry passes in Game 4 and gave Stoudemire and Anthony the opportunity to catch passes in the paint and finish. Since both can finish at the rim, and since both have shown the ability to make good passes, the Knicks should consider playing high-low with their two best offensive weapons. Especially when Shane Battier finds himself guarding Anthony.
- Move the Ball
None of the Knicks’ guards have the foot speed to effectively attack their Heat counterparts off of the dribble and cause defensive breakdowns. For that reason, threading the needle on pick and rolls, playing high-low, and finding backdoor cutters are the best ways to get some easy buckets from the Heat. If the game slows down to a crawl, there’s no reason to believe that Anthony will be able to have his way with LeBron James and Battier. Moreover, if J.R. Smith, Landry Fields, and Mike Bibby become bystanders, Anthony will need to score 60 points by himself to beat the Heat. And that’s just not likely. Flashing, passing, catching, and ball movement are as important as they’ve ever been to this team. They’d be wise to not forget that.
- Play Zone Defense
Without Iman Shumpert and Baron Davis, Landry Fields will be expected to guard either Wade or James for extended time in Game 5. Because he and Anthony lack the foot speed to stay in front of Wade and James, it’d be wise for the Knicks to employ a zone defense. Although the Heat have a few sharpshooters in James Jones and Mike Miller, allowing Tyson Chandler to stay in the paint and keeping the Heat on the perimeter could go a long way toward neutralizing one of the Heat’s greatest advantages over the Knicks—their athleticism on the perimeter and superb dribble penetration.
- Get Steve Novak Some Shots
The Heat deserve a lot of credit for how they’ve defended Steve Novak over the duration of this series. The Heat aren’t giving Novak any breathing room on the perimeter. As a result, he doesn’t have shooting opportunities. As the league’s most accurate 3-point shooter, though, the Knicks need to utilize him better. Double screens, motion, and baseline cuts are all rather simple adjustments that Novak and Coach Woodson can make to give him a chance. Shooting off of curls and screens isn’t easy, but it’d be better to see Novak miss opportunities than continue to be uninvolved in the game because his coach simply has him spot up for opportunities that aren’t there.
That said, the Heat will probably win Game 5. They’re the better team and they’re a much better team at home than they are on the road. But they play the games for a reason.
And if the Knicks can find a way to exploit some of the Heat’s weaknesses, a Game 6 in New York on Friday remains a possibility—even if it’s a longshot.