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John Schuhmann

The Heat have rolled on offense, but their defensive intensity has taken them to another level.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

Defensive pressure is driving Heat through Knicks

Posted May 4 2012 10:25AM

NEW YORK -- Dwyane Wade was under the basket, putting a body on Tyson Chandler as Carmelo Anthony was double-teamed on the right baseline by Shane Battier and Chris Bosh. There were 4.5 seconds on the shot clock when Anthony fired the ball cross-court to Baron Davis on the left wing.

With the ball in the air, Wade pivoted and headed to the left corner, knowing who was there. Davis caught Anthony's pass and immediately swung it to Steve Novak, who caught the ball with 2.8 seconds on the clock.

Before Novak could get the ball to his shooting pocket, there was Wade. They once wore the same uniform at Marquette. Now, it was like they were wearing the same shirt.

Novak helplessly swung the ball around his head a few times, unable to pass or shoot with Wade forbidding him any breathing room. The shot clock kept ticking and Novak fell out of bounds and into the Heat bench as time expired.

The game clock read 5:11 in the fourth quarter. Game 3 of the first-round series between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks was already in hand, because Mario Chalmers had just daggered the Knicks with two straight 3-pointers in transition. Wade's close-out played no part in the result. It was simply the exclamation point.

The message was clear. Nothing comes easy against our defense.

Wade's close-out was actually the fourth by the Heat and his second on Novak on that possession alone. And it forced the 17th of 20 New York turnovers in Game 3. Miami's 87-70 victory, giving them a commanding 3-0 series lead, was the ultimate exhibition of team defense, five guys on a string, focused and active.

Fighting to avoid a record-breaking 13-game postseason losing streak, New York was out of synch offensively most of the night. On a majority of their second-half possessions, they started their offense late in the shot clock and far from the basket, with the Heat pushing them out of their comfort zone.

"It all starts with ball pressure," Wade said. "You've got to put pressure on the ball, so you can get a second to get to the shooters."

Now, the Knicks haven't been a great offensive team this season. But they're always a dangerous offensive team, with Anthony able to go off for 30-plus points any night, Chandler a threat on rolls to the basket, and a few 3-point shooters who can catch fire at any moment.

"They put a lot of pressure on you when they roll to the rim," Wade said. "Tyson Chandler is one of the best at that in the league. So it's really a job to try to be there, help on that, and then get out to the shooters. But for us to win this series, we understand we have to do it."

Novak, who started Game 3 in place of Amar'e Stoudemire, is the most deadly of those shooters. He led the league in 3-point percentage in the regular season, connecting on 47.2 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and attempting 9.6 3s per 36 minutes. But through three games in this series, he's 3-for-6 on 3-pointers, just 3.2 attempts per 36.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson knew that the Heat hadn't been letting Novak get open when he decided to put him in the starting lineup on Thursday. But he believed that Novak's presence would keep the floor spaced for the Knicks' pick and roll, like it did in Game 2. He was wrong.

"I thought by him being out there, it would at least open up our pick and roll," Woodson said. "But they were really good in terms of showing on the pick and rolls and then supporting it, getting back out to Novak when the ball was swung to him. And he just didn't have any looks."

The New York fans and media will certainly be critical about Anthony, who has shot just 22-for-64 (34 percent) in the series. But his numbers aren't about bad shooting. They're about the Miami defense that has given him nothing easy.

For the first time in the series, the Knicks' defense was pretty good too in Game 3. And until they got a couple of second-half flurries from Wade and LeBron James, the Heat didn't have anything going offensively. In one 25-possession, 15 1/2-minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters, they had nine turnovers and just two field goals.

So while they were able to win with offense on Monday, Miami needed more defensive effort and sharper rotations on Thursday. That's what they got and that's why they'll have a chance to close out the series after another two days off.

"I thought we just worked harder," Shane Battier said. "We were much more active. In Game 2, we weren't as active. With this defense, that's how the system works. If you play hard and you fly around, good things happen."

Unstoppable offense one game. Suffocating defense the next. On both ends of the floor, the Heat are on another level.

And soon, they'll be on to another round.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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