NEW YORK -- Throughout his career, LeBron James has had plenty of excellent games with plenty of show-stopping moments at Madison Square Garden.
He has had 50-point performances and triple-doubles and postseason glories. Never, though, until Thursday, had James dunked a ball with such force that it seemed to almost explode. Yes, in the third quarter of the Heat’s 102-92 loss to the Knicks, James sent a ball through the hoop with such downward force that it likely tested the integrity of the sphere’s rubber walls.
The Dunk of Doom was so powerful that its rebound off the floor was more like a ricochet. It bounded down the entire length of the court as if it were rolling downhill, like that runaway ball when you were a kid that always seemed to be pulled by gravity toward the storm drain.
The dunk, made possible by a nifty assist from guard Norris Cole, was really the only highlight of the game for the visiting team, but it was so emphatic it almost made up for all the lowlights and the loss to New York. Of course, the added attention of a primetime game on TNT added to the panic on the Internet, which Heat owner Micky Arison felt compelled to address after the surprising loss.
“Everyone CHILL [it’s] JAN 9th,” Arison posted to his Twitter account, along with some odd shots at TNT reporter Craig Sager.
The Heat’s attitude on defense seemed in tune with Arison’s perspective. Miami (27-9) shot 54.4 percent from the field and somehow lost. The Heat can make up for the poor effort on Friday against the Nets at Barclays Center before returning home. From there, the Heat travels to Washington D.C. for a game against the Wizards and a visit to the White House.
The White House factor — otherwise known as the Heat’s back-to-back championship persona — always brings out the best in opponents even when those opponents are teams as dysfunctional and embarrassing as the New York Knicks. The Knicks (13-22), a sorry lot that entered its first contest against the Heat this season 11th in the league standings and more than 15 games out of first place, was engulfed in drama before the tipoff, with coach Mike Woodson refusing to speak about guard J.R. Smith and then benching Smith against the Heat.
Smith, who is turning into something of a team cancer in New York, recently was fined $50,000 by the NBA for untying the shoelaces of an opponent during a game. After Thursday’s outcome, there’s a chance that Smith could find himself on the bench with more regularity.
The Knicks were 1 of 10 from three-point range in the first half and trailed the Heat 48-43 at the break, but then stormed back to take a four-point lead entering the fourth quarter. From there, the Heat couldn’t stop the momentum.
An apparent lack of focus didn’t help the Heat’s cause much either.
Dwyane Wade finished with 23 points, shooting a sparkling 11 of 15 from the field, but was 0 of 6 from the free-throw line. James, for all his dunking prowess and 32 points, had six turnovers, including two critical giveaways in the final three minutes of the game. Chris Bosh was 3 of 10 from the field for six points.
“They were in and out,” Wade said of the missed free throws. “You can’t do nothing about that, so, I only missed six. I didn’t miss 20. So, it wasn’t that damn bad.”
The Heat shot 54.4 percent in the loss but went 11 of 21 from the free-throw line and was out-rebounded 43-32. The Knicks had 15 second-chance points to Miami’s five and New York outscored the Heat 52-42 in the paint. Meanwhile, the Smith-less Knicks battled through its struggles to shoot 63.2 percent in the second half.
Those numbers suggest a lack of interest by the Heat defensively.
Carmelo Anthony finished with 29 points, going 12 of 24 from the field, while bigs Andrea Bargnani and Amari Stoudemire played like All-Stars.
“We took bodies off and they made shots,” Wade said. “They did a good job of making shots, and getting offensive rebounds, you know, the little things. They played well. Give them credit. They deserved this win.”
Bargnani had 19 points, going 9 of 13 from the field, and Stoudemire had 14 points 7 of 12 shooting.
A turnover by James with 3:02 left all but prevented any hope of comeback by the Heat, but he gave the ball away game with 2:39 left just in case. The Heat had 15 turnovers as a team.
Anthony answered James’ sixth turnover with a three-pointer to give the Knicks a 12-point lead.