You couldn't ask for a better shot at an upset than the one the Knicks provided through three quarters this evening.
The team spun things back to the late 90s and defended like Jeff Van Gundy was still prowling the sidelines looking for a leg to attack with the fervor of a one-man wolfpack. The score was 58-56 Heat at the end of three quarters, which sorta made you think the most dangerous thing that could happen was Keith Askins or Thunder Dan Majerle getting hot from three in the final 12 minutes.
The Knicks' defense was fantastic to that point in the game. Tyson Chandler was clearly enervated by a return to health and his Defensive Player of the Year trophy and the Garden crowd was loudly urging the team to do what plenty of people felt was impossible.
Another note about that crowd, because it bears mentioning given the rough start to the playoffs for the Knicks. They were loud, they were directing anger only at the Heat and they did their part to make this feel like a game the Knicks could find a way to pull off through those first three quarters.
Everything fell apart in the final quarter. James and Mario Chalmers made their shots, the lead bulged and the Knicks fell apart in what wound up as an 87-70 loss that made the series 3-0 and left the Knicks on the brink of the end of their season.
The defense had its breakdowns down the stretch, but it was the inability to generate points that truly destroyed the Knicks. Carmelo Anthony went 7-for-23, J.R. Smith was 5-for-18 and the rest of the team wasn't much better as the Heat stifled every offensive urge that might have bubbled up to the surface over the course of the game.
It's tempting to shake a fist of anger in Anthony's general direction, but, really, what is it that you would have him do in a game like this? Yes, he forced shots and made himself the focal point of the offense, but it wasn't like there was anyone else who was going to step up and make the plays.
There were plenty of times when Anthony passed out of a double or beat a rotation with a pass back outside and you could count on less than one hand the amount of times it worked out for the Knicks. The Heat knew that there was nothing the Knicks could do offensively that didn't flow through Anthony and they played their game accordingly.
If you want to hate on Anthony, hate on him for the regular season games when he refused to buy into the system and helped the Knicks lose to teams like the Bobcats, Cavaliers and Raptors. Those losses kept the Knicks from avoiding the Heat and those losses beat a significant amount of the blame for the fact that the Knicks' season will likely end on Sunday.
Anthony was the Knicks' only hope and he didn't get the job done. The odds were heavily stacked against him and he couldn't overcome them when the team needed him the most.
If that's hateable, it's pretty hard to figure out why. Anthony had to work insanely hard just to get the ball into his hands for much of the night, which should make the end result a bit more understandable, if not totally acceptable.
There's a theory that there are five stages of death. Denial, anger, bargaining and depression were all used up during the first two games.
Acceptance is the only place to be at this moment, because there's simply no way to see your way clear to anything but a swift end to the Knicks season on Sunday afternoon. It didn't have to be this way, to be sure, but envisioning another end is for cockeyed optimists of the highest order.
Stage Five came to New York on Thursday night and there's no reason to fight it anymore.