Jeremy Lin vs. Joel Anthony.
That is the matchup that will determine the highly anticipated showdown between the Miami Heat and New York Knicks Thursday night in South Beach.
Not LeBron James or Dwyane Wade — although they will both get their say — but rather Joel Anthony.
Let me explain. (Tom Haberstroh at ESPN pointed the matchup out first.)
The Heat have been on a tear — seven straight wins all by a dozen points or more — because of their aggressive defense. The Knicks offense is predicated on points in transition and a heavy dose of pick-and-roll. Lin thrives in this system because he has crafty skills at getting to the rim and when he turns the corner off the pick he tends to slow down just a little then make good decisions.
Miami’s defensive plan is to blow that up. Not just against the Knicks, but every night. The Heat don’t have the best defense in the league (seventh in points per possession surrendered) but they have the most aggressive. They come at you, pressure you, try to force turnovers so they can get out and run (James and Wade are unstoppable in the open court). They can do that better than any other team because they are loaded with long, strong athletes.
They are not changing that for the Knicks, as Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told ESPN’s Heat Index.
“We’re going to try to bring our game to them, not necessarily to react and adapt to their pick-and-roll game,” Spoelstra said. “We’ll continue to play to our identity and to our style, which is to be disruptive.”
That’s where Joel Anthony comes in. Most of the pick-and-rolls the Knicks ran last night were with Tyson Chandler setting the pick. That’s Anthony’s man, and he is going to show out hard and pressure Lin. They are going to trap him and try to force Lin to make decisions under that pressure. Lin is going to have LeBron or Wade on him at many points, two of the league’s most aggressive defenders. Lin has already had some turnover issues, the Heat want more of those — then to turn those into highlight dunks going the other way.
Lin has handled all the pressure thrown at him so far very well. But this is different. The Heat are not Defensive Pressure 101, this is a graduate level course. Maybe doctorate level.
When teams pressure and trap they leave shooters open — Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and the rest of the Knicks have to knock down outside shots. They have to take the lanes they get to the rim and not miss when LeBron or Wade rotate over fast looking for the block. Steve Novak could have another big game.
The Heat are not unbeatable, but the calm decision making of Lin is going to be put to the test like never before. It doesn’t help that the Knicks played last night and traveled while the Heat had the night off at home and are rested.
Just another hurdle for Lin and the Knicks. But if you don’t think they stand a chance to clear it, you haven’t been watching the last two weeks.