Even if you believe your city has a legitimate reason to hate LeBron James, it might be best to drop it when the Heat come to town. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned this season, it’s that you won’t like LeBron James when he’s angry. LeBron, who has always played well at Madison Square Garden, absolutely rained sulfur upon the Knicks on Friday, finishing with 32 points on 14-23 shooting from the field and a triple-double. Just like he did in Cleveland, LeBron responded to an extremely hostile crowd with an absolute virtuoso performance. Amazingly, LeBron did most of his damage with his jumper — 23 of LeBron’s 32 points came from outside of the paint, and LeBron only shot three free throws the entire game. The Knicks weren’t playing terrible defense on LeBron, but he was simply determined to silence the MSG crowd.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, their big free-agent acquisition and MVP candidate had no answer for the Heat on either side of the floor. After allowing the Knicks to score 57 points in the first half, Miami’s top-ranked defense clamped down. They trapped the pick-and-roll effectively and didn’t allow the Knicks to keep the floor spaced the way they had in the first half. They executed on offense, forcing the Knicks to play more half-court basketball.
Those two factors forced the Knicks to rely on Amar’e isolations at the elbow for most of their offense. Those isolations work against most teams in the league, but on Friday night the Heat were able to keep Amar’e from beating them by collapsing on him when he drove and stripping the ball without fouling him and unleashing Joel Anthony upon Stoudemire. Anthony’s defense on Stoudemire was absolutely superb. He got a hand in Stoudemire’s face when he pulled up, made him take jumpers from further out than he wanted to, stayed in front of Stoudemire at all times, and was strong enough to prevent Stoudemire from bullying him inside.
When the Heat had the ball, Stoudemire’s defensive issues were exposed. Coming into this game, the Heat were 29th in the league at 33.6 points in the paint per game, while the Knicks ranked 4th at 45.4 points in the paint per game. On Friday, the Heat outscored the Knicks 46-38 in the painted area, and that happened with LeBron only scoring eight points in the paint all game. Chris Bosh, who was met with “O-ver-ra-ted” chants when he went to the free-throw line, was as aggressive as he’s been all season. He repeatedly drove right at (and then through) Stoudemire, and finished with 26 points on 11-16 shooting from the field. As brilliant as Stoudemire is offensively, I’m not sure if it would be possible for him to be a key part of the stifling defense that held him to an 11-28 shooting night on Friday.
Friday night’s game was, of course, only one game, it’s still December, and Amar’e has had stretches of brilliance while LeBron has had some rough patches. But during that one game, Stoudemire’s limitations were exposed while James played the kind of game that suggests he doesn’t have any.