After winning the first two previous matchups against the defending champion Miami Heat earlier this season, both times by 20 points, the New York Knicks had a golden opportunity on Sunday afternoon to further plant the seed of doubt in the minds of the champs as they headed into halftime with an inspiring first half and a 14 point lead. The Knicks began the season with a record of 18-5 and since have been a mediocre 17-16. Despite the average play over the last two and a half months, Knicks fans across New York were proud at intermission and most were grinning from ear to ear with the prospect of the Knicks actually beating this team for a third time; possibly again in blowout fashion. The narrative seemed too good to be true, and you knew as good as everything felt at the moment that the feeling would be equally bad if they came out in the second half and let Miami storm back to victory.
After scoring 59 first half points with good shot making, ball movement, and chemistry backed by an electric Madison Square Garden crowd everything was clicking for the Knickerbockers the way we’ve seen at other times this season, mostly during their earlier stretch of 18-5. The second half of this basketball game saw the Knicks look very much like the team they have been during their 17-16 stretch where they struggle to score scraping to find points from someone other than Carmelo Anthony. The Knicks managed to score just 34 second half points. “We can’t beat nobody scoring 34 points in the second half, it’s not going to happen,” Said a disappointed Carmelo in the Knicks locker room after the game following a 32 point effort with only four coming in the fourth quarter.
With the money on the line in the 4th quarter the world champion Miami Heat made sure they had their best players on the court - Chris Bosh, Lebron James, and Dwayne Wade - while conversely Knicks head coach Mike Woodson sat his $100 million dollar man on the bench, depriving his team the chance of winning this pivotal ball game.
For as much as the Knicks have shown us over the past two and a half months that they are nowhere near championship level the way we wanted to believe they were during their 18-5 start, a victory over the Miami Heat Sunday could have made up for all of that and given the Knicks a monumental confidence boost. They would have beat the best in the show in all three matchups this season.
In the third game of the Carmelo Anthony/Amare Stoudamire era in March of 2011, the Knicks had a huge win over the Miami Heat on the Heat’s home court. Stoudamire and Anthony played brilliantly together and Amare had the signature play of that game when he blocked Lebron James shot in the closing seconds to cement the Knicks win, leaving Lebron and company walking off the court visibly frustrated.
Before the game they were business like, led by Lebron James who held back from doing any of his usual pregame dunk routines that leaves the crowd breathless. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith reported that before the third matchup between the two teams on Sunday afternoon, just before the Heat took the Madison Square Garden floor, Dwayne Wade looked into the eyes of every player on the team and reminded them what the Knicks had done to them in two previous games this season.
Now just imagine where the Knicks could have sent the collective psyche of the Miami Heat had the Knicks finished them off in a game they led most of the way until the 4th quarter. “Of course, obviously you don’t want to lose to a team every time you face them” Dwayne Wade acknowledged in the Miami locker room, when asked if the win was significant for Miami, since they had tied the franchise record winning streak of 14 games set by the Heat team in Shaquille O’Neal’s first year with the club.
“It was huge,” said the man of the hour Lebron James, who finished with 29 points including 12 in the decisive 4th quarter in which they outscored the Knicks 26-16. “It was our next challenge, we’ve had a few this week; we had Memphis come in our building a very good team then today New York one of the best teams in our league as well so to come here against a team that is very good at home and to get a win under the circumstances too, you know we were down multiple times, down double digits and to be able to gut it out was good.”
This was an important game for the Miami Heat. We saw the dazed look on the faces of the Heat after the Knicks beat them 112-92 in Miami on December 6th, with Carmelo Anthony not even in the building. For a team that is all about winning championships and can sometimes be bored by the 82 game regular season, Sunday’s game at the Garden meant a lot to the Miami Heat. A third win over their arch foe could have been immense for the Knicks and sent Miami questioning how well they matchup with this team. That’s why coach Woodson’s decision not to play Amare Stoudamire over the final 7:56 minutes of the fourth quarter makes the loss and missed opportunity that much more costly.
Inside the Knicks postgame locker room disappointment was obviously the operative word and the frustration could be felt in the air. Knicks backup forward Kenyon Martin, who just signed a second 10 day contract with the team but has appeared in just one of the first five games, was rude with the media when he came to his locker, which is next to J.R. Smith’s, who was being interviewed by reporters. K-Mart began to say “excuse me, excuse me” almost a dozen times in a loud unpleasant manner. The stars of the team were also visibly upset and rightfully so.
Amare Stoudamire walked into the Knicks locker room after he got dressed and walked over to his locker for his usual gathering with the media following games. Stoudamire looked the way any bonafide NBA star would look had they been benched the final 7:56 of a game, while his all-star counterparts on both teams were out there battling in the biggest matchup of the year to date. But give the man credit. Amare, like he always does these days, did not give the media surrounding his locker any fuel to blow the situation into a controversy.
“It’s coach’s decision you know… so whenever my number is called I’m ready,” said Stoudamire after the game when asked how he felt about sitting down during the stretch. The Knicks have come out and said that Amare is on a 30 minute restriction these days to better manage his body which has been prone to injuries the last couple of years and even beyond. But when you only play 21 minutes in the game as he did on Sunday, that doesn’t even factor into why he sat out the final 7:56. “My max is 30 minutes, I haven’t quite gotten there yet so we’ll see how that goes.”
Part of the reason why Carmelo Anthony wanted to come to New York and the New York Knicks in the first place was because of Amare Stoudamire, and the fact that they were no longer a laughingstock because of him. Carmelo came to New York to join Amare so they could take their best shot at knocking off Miami’s big Three.
He didn’t come here to have the other half of his “Big Two” sitting on the bench down the stretch to take on the Big Three by himself. “I don’t control that I leave that up to the coach. When Amare is out there he gives us productive minutes, he is playing his ass off right now especially coming off the bench with the minutes that he is given. So as far as the minutes goes I’ll let you ask coach Woodson that, I can’t control that,” Said Carmelo.
However these post game sessions with the media are far from any real indicator into how the player really feels. They are all briefed by the Knicks public relations staff beforehand, and even while they are speaking with the crowd of reporters there is a team P.R. representative standing right beside them monitoring every question being asked and every answer given. So half of the time you have to realize that these players are not completely revealing their true emotions, yet the frustration level was clear to anyone who stepped inside that locker room.
In his postgame press conference Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said he left Stoudamire glued to the bench in the 4th quarter because Miami went small; which he felt would have compromised the Knicks defense. But that argument does not hold weight when you consider Amare played well on defense on Sunday, and made more spectacular defensive plays than anyone on the team that afternoon. Including consecutive possessions in the first half in which he blocked a Dwayne Wade shot attempt as Wade soared to the basket. Then, when the ball was inbounded by Miami, Stoudamire drew a charge.
Furthermore Amare was having an outstanding game on the offensive end as well, and Woodson should have forced Miami to guard Stoudamire with their small lineup out there on the court. What made things even more appalling is the fact that Woodson said the thought of bringing Amare back in over those final fateful minutes didn’t even cross his mind. Because if Mike Woodson really did not even consider bringing one of the more dominant scorers in the league over the past 10 years back in the game, then we have a serious problem with this team and they will never come close to winning a championship!
Despite acknowledging the presence he brought to the game the Miami Heat players - notably Dwayne Wade, Udonis Haslem and Chris Bosh, the latter two of which had to guard him - down played Amare’s absence on the court over the final minutes of crunch time with the money on the line.
“No,” said Chris Bosh, when asked if Stoudamire’s absence down the stretch took pressure off their defense. “No matter who’s in we’re going to play our system, we’re going to play how we need to play and if the personnel changes then we are aware of it and it stays the same.” Udonis Haslem was not blind to what Amare was doing in the game: ”He looks like he’s back, he looks like he’s in rhythm. He shot a jumper like he was in rhythm, he got a dunk finished over top so he looks like he got the elevation in his legs back under him, so he brings another element to their game another scorer, another guy you got to worry about so they are going to be a problem.”
Then when asked if he found it surprising that Amare was not on the court the final eight minutes of the game he gave this response. Buy it if you want to “Nah, I really did not pay attention to that,” Haslem said.. I say yea sure, right and give me a break. “I understand that they play well with him on the floor but they also play well with Melo at the four and Tyson Chandler at the five so they have a lot of different options they can go with, So either way I think they have a productive group on the floor whether it was him on the floor or off the floor.”
The prevalent idea going around that Carmelo Anthony is so effective at the power forward position that Amare Stoudamire cannot start is ludicrous. The Knicks traded a quarter of their team two years ago for Camelo based on what he did at the small forward position throughout his career; now he all of a sudden can’t function unless he is playing power forward? It makes no sense. Even if Anthony does perform a little better at the four spot, which is highly questionable, the Knicks still don’t need him to play there when they have a guy in Amare Stoudamire who has been taking advantage of and dominating power forwards his entire career.
Coach Mike Woodson is beginning to feel the heat after this move on Sunday. If he can take this as a lesson learned and change his way of thinking, then the fiasco in the Garden on Sunday March 3rd, can turn out to be a positive come playoff time. During the 2004 Olympics a young Amare Stoudamire shared the moment with Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony. You better believe Amare’s pride was hurt as he watched from the bench in the 4th quarter on Sunday, and things must change if the Knicks intend to win the NBA championship