Closeout games in a seven-game series are the toughest for any team. On Sunday, the Knicks made it known they wouldn’t go quietly with a spirited 89-87 win over the Heat in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Carmelo Anthony pulled his best Bernard King impersonation, while both Amar’e Stoudemire and Baron Davis pulled their best Willis Reed imitation, for entirely different reasons.
Anthony had an epic game, as he registered a game-high 41 points on 15-of-29 shooting, including 23 points in the second half. Stoudemire and Davis impacted the game on two different levels as one player was returning to play through an injury, while another seemed to have sparked his team to new heights following a horrific one.
Stoudemire’s start provided an emotional lift for a Knicks squad that needed all hands on deck to hold off an early summer vacation. The power forward made his first appearance since slicing his left (non-shooting) hand following Game 2 and tallied 20 points, including six points and four rebounds in the opening quarter to set the tone for a game-long fight. Stoudemire also added 10 rebounds.
Davis didn’t provide production on the floor (two points on 0-for-4 shooting and four turnovers), but his presence was felt via team camaraderie when the starting point guard was felled with a horrific knee injury at the 5:00 mark of the third quarter. Davis, who suffered a dislocated right knee while trying to convert a fastbreak layup, was used as a rallying cry for a Knicks team looking for a spark after enduring a dry spell in the second quarter. The short-handed squad immediately turned up the intensity, leading to a 19-3 run to close out the third quarter.
The Knicks raised their execution to heights not seen all series. New York’s stellar defense forced Miami to miss nine straight shots — a seven-minute dry spell. And offensively, the Knicks rode the hot hand of Anthony, who finally had a breakout game, as he torched the Heat with 11 points in the third. Anthony shot 5-of-7 in the quarter, as he helped turn around the game with a nine-point swing.
Anthony finally took the game by the throat with clutch plays down the stretch, including a gutsy long-range straightaway 3-pointer with 54.5 seconds remaining to give New York an 87-84 lead.
Anthony’s shot followed a terrific ebb-and-flow series that featured a rare clutch shot by Mike Bibby to give the Knicks an 84-81 lead at the 1:23 mark. But LeBron James showed his mettle by tying the contest on the very next possession with a long-range 3-pointer of his own. The drama ensued when Heat forward Shane Battier fouled Anthony on a 3-point attempt on the next possession, but Anthony only made one of three attempts. James then hit a circus shot for the and-one, which also fouled out Tyson Chandler. James, who finished with 27 points, coolly knocked down the freebie with 20.3 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to 88-87.
Stoudemire, heavily wrapped hand and all, then took center stage by only knocking down one of two free throws to give the Knicks an 89-87 lead. The Knicks’ defense bailed out their superstars and their free-throw shortcomings by forcing Dwyane Wade into a frantic attempt to tie the game at the buzzer. As the Defensive Player of the Year recipient watched from the bench, the Knicks’ defense featured clutch performances on the final possession from both Landry Fields and Stoudemire, who doubled the all-star guard and made him attempt an off-balance, fade-away jumper at the horn.
The thrilling win helped the Knicks not only stave off a sweep, but snapped their NBA-record 13th-straight playoff defeat.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.