MIAMI — The return to Miami for David Fizdale brought warm feelings and old friends. The stars were there for him — Chris Bosh was in the crowd and Dwyane Wade was on the floor, hugging him and handing him his jersey when it was over - and the players he had helped develop came by to shake hands and pay respects.
But the stories told before the game about working in a dingy office with rats running across his feet sounded a lot more like the night he was subjected to as he brought the Knicks to American Airlines Arena.
The Knicks days of overachieving with effort in three straight tough losses were gone. In it’s place was a humbling dose of reality as the Heat, a team without the championship expectations of the prior two opponents, not only outplayed, but out-hustled the Knicks. The result was a 110-87 loss for the Knicks, who dropped their fourth straight game to fall to 1-4 with the two-time defending champion Warriors coming up next.
“It was just so many holes in that dam,” Fizdale said. “We just, we let go of the rope tonight. This is the first time I felt like we let go and it got to use mentally and broke us in the third.”
Rats. They seemed like the good old days, or at least preferable to what Fizdale had witnessed.
“That was my first day at work,” Fizdale said. “Actually we had a couple, but the first day I was in Miami, I go in and I go to my little corner space . . . as soon as put my stuff down at the desk and sit down a big sewer rat runs over my feet. And so I run straight into the big video room. I’m an LA guy, we didn’t really deal with rats. I’m like, ‘Hey man, I didn’t sign up for this. I was breaking down tape. I’ve got to deal with a rat infestation.’ They said get used to it. They’re our friends. That was our first rat. And another rat held us hostage one night after a game, sitting in the middle of the hall, wouldn’t move, and we were too scared to go by it.”
Fizdale might not have hesitated to step right over the rat to get out of the arena on this night. For the first time this season the Knicks looked like what they are — a team in the early stages of a rebuild.
The Knicks first-year coach has hinted that a lineup change could be coming with the losses mounting, but that he wanted to see a five-game trial. In this last test, there was Trey Burke, the starting point guard, shooting 1-for-10. Enes Kanter had 8 points and 5 rebounds and was a -24, struggling badly against the Heat big men. Lance Thomas had 6 points and 6 rebounds, but might be the most likely candidate to be pushed to the bench. By the fourth quarter Frank Ntilikina was the only starter still on the floor.
After falling behind by nearly 20 points in each of the previous two losses, the Knicks who built an early lead, running off 11 straight points to finish the first quarter with a 27-16 advantage. But by halftime the advantage was gone as the Heat scored the final five points and nudged in front, 47-45. And then in the third quarter it all fell apart.
The Knicks were outscored, 45-20, in the period, the tightly contested game turning into an embarrassing blowout. The team had spent the last few days talking about how close they had been, working hard to overcome the absence of Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Knox. That wasn’t a problem this time.
“I think it was the weight of having three tough losses and getting punched in the third quarter where I don’t think our guys mentally held together,” Fizdale said. “But it’s not something that I’m disappointed in. I’m never going to be at that point unless they just get selfish and don’t play hard.”
“We just put our head down and we stopped competing,” Kanter said. “Especially on the road it doesn’t matter if you’re down 15, up by 20, whatever. You just have to stay competing and just stay together, that’s the most important thing.”