Knicks 91 - HEAT 86 Recap

MIAMI – There are a number of reasons why the Miami HEAT to another close game, this one a 91-86 loss to the New York Knicks. But as many reasons as there are and have been in games like this before, conclusions are much tougher to draw.

The HEAT had an outstanding first quarter, winning it 34-23 as they turned stops into transition opportunities, with two dunks in the first three minutes spurring fluid, free-flowing offense.

As has happened when Miami has had a quarter such as that, either with the team playing well as a whole or an individual player dominating from the get-go, the early success was as harmful as it was helpful. As the bench lineups rotated in – one led by LeBron James, the other by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – the little things, like the final boxout of a strong defensive possession or fighting over a screen to defend a three, seemed to fall by the wayside.

And when those things are lost, the larger, more glaring mistakes tend to follow. Namely, turnovers.

The game’s complexion changed in the final 4:25 before halftime. After a Bosh jumper put Miami up 15, the Knicks mounted a 16-0 run, featuring four three-pointers, which gave them the lead headed into halftime. In just over four minutes, all of Miami’s goodwill from the first quarter was erased, and they carried their mistakes – such as three turnovers during New York’s run – into the break.

“The turnovers were coming at critical times,” Erik Spoelstra said, “To either allow them back into the game or for them to take a lead.”

Though the HEAT would take leads of six in both the third and quarters, their game never recovered.

And here’s where we get into those reasons that explain but never quite add up into something tangible. Miami’s poor shooting – 27.3 percent on 22 three-point attempts – hurt their ability to answer New York’s runs, and in turn harmed their floor spacing.

“One thing you can point at – no fingers pointed at anyone – they made shots down the stretch that we didn’t make,” Wade said.

With poor spacing, attempts to execute their more movement-filled sets were disjointed, as players would correctly cut off the ball only to run into a teammate or mass of defenders. With timing thrown off, Miami was forced to work deep into the clock, making it difficult to earn good looks. Trying to do so with the clock working against them, though, created turnovers (10 in the second half).

And when these issues had cropped up enough to be readily apparent, the immediate reaction was to attack the source, the spacing, by taking the available threes. Which were then missed.

The defense, still, was there whenever it wasn’t backpedaling off a turnover. The Knicks shot below 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from deep. Because of that, Miami was always in, and at times had control of – according to Bosh – the game.

“We had control of the game. We just didn’t execute down the stretch,” Bosh said.

It appeared as though the offense had tightened up at the onset of the final period, when the HEAT scored on four of its first five possessions, including three dunks or layups. But the aforementioned shortcomings came back, and each time Miami fell short, the Knicks’ defense appeared to gather more confidence, and thus more activity.

All of which culminated in the HEAT’s play with 12.7 second left in the game, down one. James received the ball up top, got a step on Carmelo Anthony, and had his layup blocked by Amar’e Stoudemire, who rotated quickly to provide the help.

There was one final chance, with James getting an open look at a three to tie on the next play, but it missed and the game was over.

But with all the things that our eyeballs and our statsheets tell us went wrong, what do we glean from that data? That even though the HEAT seem to have suffered a statistical anomaly in most of their major losses this season, something in their makeup as a team causes such bad luck? Such an answer, while providing for a healthy narrative, appears to abandon logic.

So until further information allows for a more rational answer, whether in favor of Miami or not, the best line of thinking seems to follow the most boring path: patience.

“We will have our breakthrough,” Spoelstra said. “As painful as this is right now, there will be a time that we break through and are able to execute and win a game like this against a quality opponent.

“What you hope is the pain of a game like this resonates enough to make a change.”