HEAT 106 - Knicks 98 Recap

MIAMI, December 28 – Before the Miami HEAT’s 106-98 victory against the New York Knicks Tuesday night, coach Erik Spoelstra said that, offensively, his team still had a long way to go.

After a 34-18 first quarter on 54 percent shooting in favor of Miami, it appeared that Spoelstra was somewhat inaccurate in his assessment.

Three rhythm-less quarters later, ones which saw the HEAT almost lose a 22-point lead as the Knicks crawled within one possession in the final minute, and Spoelstra was clearly right on the money.

Though the Knicks, at 21st in the league in defensive efficiency, are hardly a brick wall of a team, they adopted the same strategy that nearly every team has attempted in the past month after the Dallas Mavericks created the blueprint: get back in transition, pack the paint and, if worst comes to worst, concede the long two-pointer.

“When we play strictly in the half court,” Spoelstra said. “You’re seeing a lot of similar things each game. Teams are packing the paint to dare us to take jump shots.”

And when the HEAT have been at their worst, they have been all too willing to oblige the defense, as they did in the second quarter tonight, missing five threes and shooting 27.8 percent from the field.

But what keeps them, at the very least, surviving, is the talent. The sheer amount of talent that has Dwyane Wade going off for 40 points – 23 in the second half – and LeBron James two assists away from another triple double. The talent that sees Zyrdunas Ilgauskas carry the HEAT with 12 points and nine rebounds in the first quarter, or Chris Bosh doing the same in the third with 10 in the period.

Talent that, even with the team treading water in the fourth quarter and hemorrhaging baskets, is able to respond, calmly, to the Knicks being within three points with two minutes to play with a 9-4 run to seal the win.

“If you do panic, you’re probably going to lose,” Bosh said. “To be honest with you, everybody gives up leads, it’s the NBA.

“You never panic, at home, I don’t care how bad it looks.”

As odd and disjointed the HEAT looked for the better part of three quarters, things hardly looked bad when they came out in the box score. Shooting 48 percent, with 106 points in just 90 possessions, works for Miami on most nights – even considering just 15 assists on 38 field goals – and a season-high 56 points in the paint works on any night.

Pointing out the 50-32 rebounding advantage on top of those numbers is all well and good, but it’s more impressive if you think of all those extra rebounds as defensive stops the HEAT earned. Hold the Knicks to 41.5 percent shooting, and of course there will be more available on the boards. But what the HEAT are doing now that they were struggling with a month ago is finishing those stops by grabbing the loose ball, as shown by all four non-point guards in Miami’s starting lineup combining for 39 rebounds.

“We knew that was one of our big problems early in the season,” James said. “We were looking for one another to get a defensive rebound instead of just using our athleticism to try and get it.”

Now, they are getting it, and it’s a huge reason why the HEAT continue to win despite Spoelstra’s very accurate depiction of an offense with a long ways to go. After all, talent alone will carry the scoring for a long time, but only as long as the defense is there every night. And with the HEAT holding their 16th consecutive opponent below 100 points, able to turn to players like Joel Anthony to stick Amar’e Stoudemire, the defense has been nowhere but there.