NEW YORK — Late in the third quarter of the Heat’s 15-point win over the Knicks on Saturday, the game was not yet out of hand, and with Miami leading by single digits, Carmelo Anthony wasn’t about to let LeBron James get to the basket for an easy two points in transition.
Anthony wrapped up James and then let him go, causing the reigning MVP to go tumbling to the floor. The ruling was a personal foul as it should have been, with no flagrant called and no hard feelings between the two superstars when all was said and done.
It was a small moment in a greater performance from the Heat, who put together a solid effort on both ends of the floor, but especially defensively in bouncing back from a blowout home loss to the Thunder three days earlier, and beating a Knicks team that had won four straight.
The story was the Heat, not the battle between Anthony and James. And LeBron wanted to make sure we were aware of that when speaking to reporters afterward.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been tackled,” he said. “I don’t know. It shouldn’t be a personal foul, because it’s not a basketball play. But at the same time, he sees me with a full head of steam, he’s just trying to wrap me up. I don’t think he intended for me to hit the ground.”
When pressed on the issue and asked whether or not it should have been a flagrant, James didn’t have any interest in assigning additional significance to one interesting but ultimately meaningless play.
“I’m not going to be caught up in that and try to make that the story of the game,” he said. “The way we played tonight was the story of the game. The way we came out with aggressiveness on both ends of the floor, the way we shared the ball offensively — that’s the story of the game, not that one foul.”
James was magnificent in finishing with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but his activeness on the defensive end in grabbing six steals is what truly made life miserable for the Knicks.
The performance was particularly impressive considering the way the Heat lost to Oklahoma City in their previous outing, and Erik Spoelstra noted how James set the tone for his teammates in the days that followed such a demoralizing loss.
“I think this performance started two days ago,’ Spoelstra said. “After the OKC game, typically we would have had a day off. We all came in to own the film, but before practice he was in for an hour and a half in the weight room and then on the court for about 45 minutes drilling, sweating, letting everybody know that [the loss] wasn’t acceptable. And then a full team practice yesterday where he was much like he was tonight. His actions were speaking louder than his words, and I was really pleased to see that go from the practice court on to the game.”
This is the time of the season where the Heat typically would begin to flip the switch, and start the process of regaining focus for another postseason run. The victory over the Knicks could be a starting point, and while the one small moment between two of the game’s biggest stars is of interest, it wasn’t something either of them lingered on for very long — and both were all smiles when discussing it long after the game was finished.