Knicks show grit, but can't sustain it

Baron Davis #85 of the New York Knicks

Baron Davis #85 of the New York Knicks celebrates a basket against the Miami Heat during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. (May 3, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

The Garden was rocking, the Knicks were rolling and for a moment Thursday night, it appeared the home team might end the 12-game, 11-year playoff drought that has exasperated the franchise and its fans.

After trailing early, the Knicks scored 14 points in a row and 18 of 19, and now were surging again, up 11 on the Heat late in the first half of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

Then it all went wrong, erasing what might have been a feel-good night for an undermanned team that for a few improbable minutes in the second quarter had Jared Jeffries, Josh Harrellson, Landry Fields, J.R. Smith and Mike Bibby on the floor.

Gradually, inexorably, the Heat took control, and confirmed again that this series is a mismatch, and that Carmelo Anthony is no match for Miami's twin superstars, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James.

The Heat won, 87-70, to take a 3-0 series lead and extend the Knicks' postseason losing streak to an NBA-record 13 games dating to 2001.

If the Knicks lose Sunday, it will be the sixth consecutive time -- dating to the 1999 Finals -- they have been ousted from the playoffs on their home floor.

It was a pity after what the Knicks did early, leading 40-29 with 1:44 left in the first. But the Heat scored the final seven points of the half, then the first three of the second half.

The Knicks still were within 58-56 after the third quarter, much of which James missed because of foul trouble. But Wade thought the rest did James good. He noted that there are worse things in the world than being ahead entering the fourth quarter on the road with "the best player in the game coming in.''

Sure enough, James scored 17 points in the final 12 minutes and the Heat outscored the Knicks 29-14. (He totaled 32 points, with eight turnovers.)

It was a bold statement by James, particularly in contrast to his counterpart. Anthony had another rough day, scoring 22 points but shooting 7-for-23 with five turnovers.

The Heat was so impressed with the job Shane Battier did on him defensively that they gave him the game ball in spite of a statistical line that included zero points and 0-for-6 shooting.

"He did an unbelievable job on Melo,'' James said.

Said Melo: "I wouldn't say they shut me down. I am missing shots that I would normally make.''

Might it have made a difference if the injured Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert were available to the Knicks? That's a stretch. Everyone in basketball knew entering the series the Heat was the better team. But not everyone expected Miami to make it look this easy.

Interim coach Mike Woodson is running out of things to say, and running out of games in which to make a case to be retained. "Offensively, we just didn't have it,'' he said after his team shot 31.9 percent from the floor. "We were so stagnant. We played one side of the ball all night long, which was ridiculous.''

Steve Novak, starting because Stoudemire was out with a lacerated left hand, did not score.

The series effectively is over now, with no team in NBA history having recovered from a 3-0 series deficit, and the Knicks are in no position to be the first.

Game 4 still will mean something to them and their fans, sort of, with a chance to end that nasty losing streak and force the Heat to win it back in Miami rather than at the Garden.

Is that enough? No, of course not, given preseason expectations. But given the grim reality of the present, it would be better than nothing. A little better.