LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts to being...

LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts to being fouled during Game 2. (April 30, 2012) Credit: Getty Images


It took less than half a minute for the first indication that this game would be far different from the last one for Carmelo Anthony.

Being guarded as usual by LeBron James, the Knicks forward nearly had the ball stolen. But he did not get rattled, spinning out of trouble and putting up a 16-foot jump shot.

Knicks 2, Heat 0.

By the end of the first quarter, Anthony had 15 points -- more than the 11 he totaled in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Saturday.

By halftime, his total had risen to 21, on pace to match his memorable 42-point effort in Game 2 of last year's first- round series against the Celtics.

Hmmm . . .

But when the final buzzer sounded, the net result was the same as Saturday and the same as Game 2 last year and the same as the Knicks' 11 playoff games before this one: a loss.

Anthony faded down the stretch while James and his friends came alive, giving the Heat a 104-94 victory and a 2-0 series lead, and giving the Knicks a question to ponder: Is there anything they can do to salvage this?

Anthony did his best to put on a brave face afterward, saying, "It's our turn now. The fun begins now." But he did acknowledge the frustration that "comes from us playing so hard and still not being able to get over the hump."

In some ways it was a more dispiriting loss than the 33-point blowout in Game 1 because before it all went wrong, so much was going right. After two days to ponder Saturday's debacle, in which Anthony shot 3-for-15, the Knicks came up with a more sound offensive strategy.

To prevent the Heat from fronting and then doubling Anthony, the Knicks often had him bring the ball upcourt himself, allowing him to create shots unencumbered. It mostly worked.

"We made some huge strides," Anthony said. "We made some huge adjustments."

Even with stellar defenders James and Shane Battier in his face, Anthony was 6-for-11 in the first quarter, looking like the player who spent most of April as one of the NBA's most consistent offensive forces.

But in the end, none of it changed the fact that the Heat is the better overall team -- and that James is the more versatile superstar between the two starting small forwards.

Anthony finished with 30 points and nine rebounds but James had the more dazzling overall statistics sheet: 19 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and two steals.

Anthony scored the first basket of the second half, as he had in the first, but for most of the rest of the game, he was not nearly as effective as he was early on. The Heat began to solve him -- most dramatically when he was stuffed by Udonis Haslem while attempting to drive to the basket.

Amar'e Stoudemire picked up some of the slack before punching a glass case housing a fire extinguisher outside the locker room in frustration after leaving the court, making his status for Game 3 uncertain. But the Heat again proved it simply has more weapons, which is why it will take a hoops miracle for the Knicks to win more than a game or two in this series.

Anthony said the Heat did not do anything dramatically different against him in the second half, saying he simply was missing shots, but he added that Miami is too good a defensive team to let him keep piling up points at will.

"They weren't going to allow me to score 40 or 50 points," Anthony said.

After Saturday's humiliation, and with the backcourt riddled with injuries, Anthony and the Knicks deserve credit for putting up a creditable fight on their second try.

The fact that it wasn't nearly enough says everything we need to know about this series, and about the teams' respective stars.