Everyone wanted another glorious chapter in the Knicks-Heat rivalry.
Everyone wanted the surging Knicks to catch the overconfident Heat by surprise. Everyone wanted a motivated Carmelo Anthony to outplay a befuddled LeBron James. Everyone wanted Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler to overwhelm Miami’s questionable frontcourt.
Everyone wanted an ultimate game, the way these teams settled matters every year from 1997 to 2000.
You know what? That was almost a generation ago. It doesn’t matter anymore.
What matters is the Heat have James, and Wade, and Chris Bosh, and their own motivation to get back to the NBA Finals and finish the job.
The Knicks? Well, they have Anthony, who scores a lot but really hasn’t done much winning in the postseason. And they have Stoudemire, who nearly cut off his hand punching a fire extinguisher case after Game 2. And they have Heat castoff Mike Bibby, who became the starting point guard in the absence of Jeremy Lin, Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert, all injured.
The teams aren’t at all as closely matched as they were in the 1990s, and it showed throughout the entire series, which the Heat closed out in five games with Wednesday’s 106-94 home victory.
From Dave George of the Palm Beach Post: “Getting four wins to advance beyond the first round next year will require more players, specifically a free-agent point guard bought with summertime cash, and more consistent work with a single coach, Mike Woodson or someone else, who is able to make the Anthony-Stoudemire tandem a true partnership. “There’s no doubt I think it will work,” Stoudemire said, sounding much like LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did after the Heat fell short in the NBA Finals last year. Miami is a championship team in the making. The Knicks are nowhere close. “We played a great team,” Woodson said. “Our guys got a short taste of what playoff basketball is about.” Throughout, the Knicks looked every bit the No. 7 seed, and interim Woodson, placed atop this failed project in March, will drift off into an uncertain off-season knowing that injuries alone are not to blame for his team being kicked to the curb so casually. This group was never more than a three-ring Madison Square Garden circus, with Jeremy Lin selling an insane amount of tickets and memorabilia during the regular season and both Anthony and Stoudemire refusing to share a spotlight that would have been brighter had they simply learned to cooperate like Miami’s superstars do.”
Anthony, who scored 41 points in New York’s lone win in Game 4 on Sunday, again played the role of scorer savant with 35 points. But he has basically been playing 1-on-5 against Miami, which made Anthony work for every point he scored.
From Ethan Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: “Nothing. That’s what LeBron James gave Carmelo Anthony on the final possession of the third quarter. Nowhere to drive. Seemingly no way to shoot. Still, Anthony somehow spun back into a fallaway 19-footer that splashed through the hoop, just before the buzzer. It was brilliant, beautiful, one of the best doing what he does best, against the best giving his absolute best effort. And yet, it was perhaps the best example of just what the Knicks were up against, and why the Heat was able to put them down for good in Game 5. Simply, the Knicks had no margin for error, not with their ill-conceived roster before the series, and certainly not with their depleted one as it progressed. Without its top three guards, and with Amare Stoudemire still playing with a padded left hand, New York needed an otherworldly Anthony simply to stay close. And although he was good Wednesday, he wasn’t quite good enough, and so the Heat did what it should have done Sunday at Madison Square Garden. It finished.”
So the second-seeded Heat move on to meet the third-seeded Indiana Pacers and the Knicks move into an offseason of uncertainty. They need to hire a permanent coach, and whether that is Mike Woodson, Phil Jackson or someone else, he will have the enormous task of figuring out how Anthony and Stoudemire can play effectively together.
It’s nice to think that there’s a rivalry between the Knicks and Heat. But right now, their “rivalry” is about the same as the one between the Christians and the lions.
From Howard Beck of the New York Times: “Miami was indisputably the superior team, in both talent and experience, with two superstars — Wade and James — who are equally dominant as scorers, playmakers and defenders. The Knicks, 15 months after pairing Anthony with Stoudemire, are still a work in progress. Their stars mesh uneasily, and they desperately need a point guard to make sense of the offense. “We have to elevate our teammates,” Chandler said. “We have to do a better job of getting everybody involved, getting everybody playing at a high level and getting everybody focused on what we’re trying to accomplish.” Even at full strength, the Knicks would have had difficulty upsetting the Heat. And of course, they were never at full strength. They were undermined by a string of misfortune: the April surgery on Jeremy Lin’s knee, the illness that drained Chandler, the devastating knee injuries to Iman Shumpert and Davis and Stoudemire’s glass-shattering, hand-slicing moment of madness. But the Knicks’ most critical missteps came in the regular season, when Anthony slumped and engaged in a battle of wills with Coach Mike D’Antoni. By the time Woodson replaced D’Antoni, the Knicks were six games under .500, battling for a low playoff seed and guaranteed of a tough first round.”
While Knicks-Heat left fans wanting more, the best first-round series continued Wednesday night in Memphis – and will continue for at least one more game – as the Grizzlies again built a big lead and managed to hold on this time with a 92-80 victory over the Clippers that narrowed their series deficit to 3-2.
The Grizzlies got back to their bread and butter, which is playing through post players Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The dup combined to shoot 14-of-18 in the first half. Randolph made his first six shots. Gasol, who took four shots in a Game 4 loss, surpassed that total in the first 6:08 of Game 5, knocking down four of his first five shots.
From Ronald Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “Marc Gasol received the basketball along the baseline about 10 feet from the hoop. The Grizzlies’ center sized up Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin and then charged at him. When the play was over, Gasol had scooped in a reverse layup that Griffin couldn’t stop. By the time the Grizzlies polished off a 92-80 victory Wednesday night in Game 5 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series, they clearly had rediscovered their advantage against Clippers. The Griz pummeled the Clippers in the post with Gasol and Zach Randolph providing the muscle. The inside force allowed Memphis to play with a double-digit lead for most of the game, and then fend off a late Los Angeles rally before a sellout crowd in FedExForum. In locating their post game, the Griz also found new life by cutting the Clippers’ lead to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is Friday in Los Angeles. The Griz would host Game 7 on Sunday if necessary. “We did a better job of executing the game plan,” Gasol said after leading the Griz with 23 points and seven rebounds.
Gasol and Randolph combined to score 27 of the Grizzlies’ first 36 points in a big first quarter that had them ahead by 14 points. Both players made quick, decisive and strong moves toward the basket — something that had been missing over the previous two games in the series.”
In the third quarter, the Clippers appeared to be perfectly content in mailing in the rest of this one and returning home for their best shot at wrapping up the series. They collected four technical fouls in just over a minute and seemed more interested in battling the referees than the Grizzlies.
But the outbursts got their blood boiling, and the Grizzlies cooperated by reverting to their approach to Game 1 – when they blew a 27-point lead and lost – which appeared to be make a huge lead disappear as quickly as possible by forgetting your post presence and firing poor perimeter shots.
A 24-point bulge was cut in half entering the fourth quarter, then halved again at 81-75 midway through the final period. But Mo Williams and the Clippers cooled off, and the Grizzlies avoided another collapse.
Memphis has held a fourth-quarter double-digit lead in all but Game 4 but is just 2-2 in those games, which is why the Grizzlies still have their backs to the wall.
From Ron Higgins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: “Is there ever going to be an easy game in this first-round Western Conference series between the Grizzlies and the Clippers? The Grizzlies should be ecstatic that they won game five on Wednesday in FedExForum, 92-80, to stave off elimination and advance to a game six on Friday in Los Angeles trailing 3-2. But here’s the problem. A Clippers’ team, even with point guard Chris Paul being “held” to 19 points, with Blake Griffin sustaining a sprained knee in the fourth quarter, with the team shooting 37.1 percent from the field and getting outscored 48-26 in the paint, cut the Griz lead to six with 55.7 seconds left. A Memphis team that scored 57 points in the first half, thanks to rediscovering that center Marc Gasol and forward Zach Randolph can score with enough touches, had just 35 points in the second half. Gasol and Randolph scored 23 points and 19 points respectively, but in the second half they combined for just nine points on 0-for-7 shooting after going a combined 14-of-18 from the field in the first half. When asked why the disparity between halves, why didn’t the inside duo touch the ball as much the second half, Griz coach Lionel Hollins pointed to the fact Gasol and Randolph didn’t make a second-half basket. That’s an off-the-cuff answer with no meat to it. The fact is that in the first half, Griz point guard Mike Conley was getting his team quicker into its offensive sets. Entry passes to the post were made, without hesitation, as soon as Gasol and Randolph, were open. Gasol and Randolph did their parts by making quick decisions once they had the ball, and the result looked like the Griz playoff offense from a year ago.”
The series heads back to Tinseltown, where the Grizzlies have been unable to finish, squandering a double-digit lead in Game 3 and faltering in overtime after rallying from a 10-point hole in Game 4. If Memphis doesn’t finish Friday, it is finished.
However, Griffin (knee) and Paul (hip flexor) both left Game 5 with injuries, raising questions about whether the Clippers can finish with their two best players at less than full strength and creating concern in Clipper Nation.
From T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: “There was a nice breeze, the stench that is Memphis blown over to Arkansas while down at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken it was Jim Brooks’ 72nd birthday. The Hollywood writing and directing genius was in town with the Clippers for Game 5 of the playoff series, not realizing at the time that munching on fried pickles was going to be as good as it would get. Happy birthday, Jim, but as any longtime Clippers fan understands, success as a franchise is a frustrating lifetime pursuit. And almost always ends in failure. But before we get to Friday’s Game 6 in Staples Center and this group’s chance to defy Clippers history, there are yet more obstacles to overcome. Instead of gaining momentum from throwing a fourth-quarter scare into Memphis before losing Game 5, 92-80, there are the injuries to Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for the Clippers to consider. The good news, as if any injury report can offer such a thing, is that Paul suffered an injury to his hip flexor. It was first believed he had hurt his groin, an injury that had forced him to miss extended time at the end of the regular season. “I don’t know what happened,” said Paul, who has dominated this series. “I just felt a sharp pain. I’ll be all right; I’ll be ready.” Take a deep breath, Clipper Nation.”
There is a trio of Game 6 showdowns tonight – Bulls-76ers, Hawks-Celtics and Lakers-Nuggets. The Sixers and Celts are at home and in ideal position to close out their series. The Nuggets are at home and will be trying to force a Game 7. We will have previews later today.