MIAMI >> Jeremy Lin was no match for the Miami Heat.
Forcing Lin into easily the worst game of his remarkable run as New York’s starting point guard by running streams of defenders at him, Miami topped the Knicks 102-88 on Thursday night — the eighth straight win for the NBA-leading Heat, all of those wins coming by at least 12 points.
Chris Bosh scored 25 points, Dwyane Wade added 22 and LeBron James finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for Miami, which will go into the All-Star break with the NBA’s best record (27-7).
Lin’s final line: 1 for 11 from the field, eight points, three assists — a far cry from the 23.9 points and 9.2 assists he had been averaging over his first 11 games in the Knicks’ rotation, when he breathed immeasurable life into a team that was floundering.
On Thursday, he simply wasn’t the same player, turning the ball over eight times. His last miss came with 6 seconds left, the outcome already decided, and he simply walked quietly off the court into the locker room.
But for a while, the game lived up to the hype.
Spike Lee, Floyd Mayweather and Chad Ochocinco all sat within seven seats of each other on one sideline, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison of the Miami Marlins were on another sideline, and members of the New York Mets’ front office reportedly jumped aboard a helicopter for the quick trip from the team’s spring-training home in Port St. Lucie down to Miami.
Even the First Fan took note of the hubbub surrounding the game.
"In another life, I would be staying for the Knicks-Heat game tonight, then going up to Orlando for NBA All-Star weekend," President Barack Obama told cheering students at the University of Miami earlier in the day. "But these days, I’ve got a few other things on my plate. Just a few."
But when Air Force One was headed to Orlando for a Thursday night fundraiser, yes, there were televisions tuned to Heat-Knicks on board.
Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 19 points, with J.R. Smith scoring 14 for New York off the bench.
If proof was needed that the Heat wanted to make a point against Lin, there was some clear evidence.
Exhibit A: Mario Chalmers stole the ball from Lin and went in for a two-handed dunk in the early minutes. Exhibit B: Norris Cole, Chalmers’ backup at point guard, did the same thing in the second quarter.
Combined dunks this season for Chalmers and Cole entering Thursday? Zero.
Those strip-and-scores were part of a six-turnover first half from Lin, matching his third-highest total in any half this season. Amare Stoudemire also had six turnovers in the first 24 minutes, the Knicks were outscored 30-16 in the paint, 12-1 on fast breaks and 12-3 off turnovers.
Nonetheless, Miami’s lead was only 51-47 at the break.
For all the fire the Heat were playing with, the Knicks were up to the task. Steve Novak came off the bench to make all three of his shots — all from 3-point range — and New York was right there even though Lin had two assists in the first 1:26 of the game and no others in the final 22:34 of the half.
"The ultimate test," is how D’Antoni described the Heat before the game.
The Heat offered some ultimate moments, too.
James lowered a shoulder into Lin on one of Miami’s first fast breaks of the night, sending the guard back about 10 feet. In the second quarter, Wade pounced on a miss by James for a two-handed put-back slam, a play quickly followed by a James dunk — courtesy of a Lin turnover. On the next Heat possession, Stoudemire accepted a pass from Lin, not seeing Wade get behind him for an easy strip that led to a layup and 43-40 Miami lead.
Back and forth they went, just as everyone wanted.
It was classic Knicks-Heat stuff, just like those playoff battles in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Bodies were flying, tempers were flaring, Tyson Chandler and D’Antoni picked up technicals arguing the same play in the first quarter … and more than a few Knicks fans who paid big money for tickets — the average price for the game on the resale markets was over $700, by one estimate — made their presence known loudly and often.
"It’s one game," D’Antoni said. "And we’re not there yet. They’re there. They’re the team right now to beat for everybody. They’re playing better than everybody. And we’re trying to get our team together."
He’s right. They’re not there yet.
Lin never got rolling, and the Knicks were eventually worn down. James, Wade and Bosh combined for 25 of Miami’s 29 points in the third quarter, James hitting a jumper with less than a second left to push the Heat edge to 80-66.
Lin checked back in with 7:06 to play, the Heat lead then at 90-76. James made a jumper about a half-minute later, giving Miami its biggest lead to that point at 16. Two possessions later, Lin had a short jumper in the lane that bounced on the rim three times, wouldn’t fall and left the phenomenon going back up the court shaking his head ever so slightly.