Knicks return to iso ‘Melo, get knocked out of playoffs by Heat

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This year was supposed to be different for New York, and it certainly was unlike any season you can remember — Linsanity, injuries, Mike D’Antoni out and Mike Woodson in, a return to ‘Melo ball not seen since Denver.

But it ended like every Knicks playoff series since 2000 — without the team advancing past the first round.

In Game 5 on Wednesday, New York returned to an isolation-heavy, Carmelo Anthony-focused offense against a Heat team that had proven three previous times they could beat that pretty easily. Anthony and J.R. Smith combined to take 60 percent of the Knicks’ shots, while LeBron James had seven assists to go with his 29 points, got teammates involved and the Miami Heat cruised to a 106-94 win and a 4-1 series win.

The Heat will face the Indiana Pacers in the next round.

The Heat were favored to win this series because they had too many athletes and too much talent for the Knicks to handle. When Iman Shumpert was lost with a knee injury and Amare Stoudemire had to miss a game after smashing his hand through a fire extinguisher glass case in frustration after Game 2, the Knicks’ fate was sealed.

Still, this Game 5 loss has to be frustrating for Knicks fans because the team went away from the formula that worked in Game 4. In that game Anthony and Stoudemire played off each other, all of the Knicks players got involved and they played smart defense.

But back in Miami for Game 5, it was like ‘Melo put on blinders and jacked up 31 shots and had just one assist. But at least he made 15 of his shots and scored 35 points — Smith was 3-for-15 but would not stop shooting or taking bad, selfish shots. Stoudemire fouled out with just seven shots and 14 points. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN points out that for the series Anthony and Smith took 200 shots, the rest of the Knicks combined for 121.

LeBron was the anti-Carmelo — he got teammates involved and racked up seven dimes. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh played well and each had 19 points. Miami took away good looks for the Knicks from three (4-for-13) and after a close opening 18 minutes pulled away for an easy win.

The Knicks now face some offseason questions, starting with how serious an overhaul do they think they need? If they bring back a starting four of Shumpert, Anthony, Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, then add a veteran point guard like Steve Nash (or Jason Kidd as a fallback) is that enough? Is it with Mike Woodson returning as coach? Or do the Knicks need to think bigger overhaul, like trying to move Stoudemire and bring in a different big name that meshes better with Anthony?

There are no easy answers, although my guess is next year’s Knicks look a lot like the Knicks we just saw with just a few additions. But now Knicks fans and management can debate the issue, they have time.

The Heat have bigger issues to focus on, starting with Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger.

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — eight of them in the first quarter. Houston was up 17 in the first and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. The Warriors were also forcing turnovers, 21.3 percent of Rockets possessions ended with a turnover (more than one in five trips down the court). Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.