Feb 23, 2012, 10:40 PM EDT
By now you’ve certainly heard all about Jeremy Lin, and the way he’s led the Knicks to an improbable stretch of nine wins in the team’s last 11 games. The Miami Heat, too, were obviously paying attention, and made sure that Lin wouldn’t be a factor when the teams met on Thursday.
Miami’s defense forced Lin into playing his worst game since becoming a starter, as the Heat cruised to a 102-88 victory, the team’s eighth straight. Lin had averaged just under 24 points and a little more than nine assists per game during that magical 11-game span, but finished this one with just eight points, six rebounds, and three assists, to go along with eight turnovers. Lin was a dismal 1-for-11 from the field, thanks to heavy pressure from multiple defenders all night long.
There’s no shame in the Knicks losing to this Heat team on the road; Miami is playing at an elite level right now, and owns the best record in the league heading into the All-Star break at 27-7. But the Knicks should be concerned with the way the Heat used their team defense to stifle Lin, which in turn shut down the rest of the New York offense.
Miami played physical, on-ball defense when Lin had possession, and twice, the Heat’s point guards were able to get steals from him in the open court which resulted in breakaway dunks on the other end. The Heat showed hard on the screen-and-roll, often forcing Lin to give up the ball while still 25 feet from the basket. And when Lin was able to gain some measure of dribble penetration, his defender was able to stay in front of him, while the Heat’s help defense made sure any shot attempts were well-contested.
Lin couldn’t get the offense going, and as a result, he wasn’t the only one to struggle. Carmelo Anthony, playing in just his third game since Lin started rolling after missing the previous seven due to a groin strain, finished with 19 points, but it took him 20 shots to get there. Baron Davis, who was to be New York’s savior at the point guard spot before Lin made his mark, managed to miss all seven of his shot attempts — including four from three-point distance — in just 14 minutes of action off the bench.
Meanwhile, Miami’s big three shouldered the load for the Heat offensively, combining for 67 points on better than 50 percent shooting.
Lin is no fluke; he can clearly play at this level, and is likely to continue to flourish as the key component running Mike D’Antoni’s offense. It will take some time to integrate Anthony back into the fold, who is an elite if inefficient scorer when he has the ball in his hands. And, the Knicks are clearly still a long way from reaching their potential, as D’Antoni pointed out afterward.
“It’s one game,” he said. “And we’re not there yet. They’re there. They’re the team right now to beat for everybody. They’re playing better than everybody. And we’re trying to get our team together.”
All of that is true, and not every team has the necessary personnel or cohesiveness defensively to do what Miami was able to. But what should be of critical concern to the Knicks is the fact that the Heat gave the rest of the league a solid blueprint of exactly how to go about stopping Lin and the rest of the New York offense.