Another high school buddy and good friend of ours, JAY SANTIAGO (a Spurs fan) watched Game 4 of Heat vs Knicks live in New York City. Here is his courtside report and fan experience at the most famous arena in the world, Madison Square Garden.

After many years of being an NBA fan, I’ve never thought about watching the NBA playoffs live. But somehow here I am in New York City just in time for Game 4 between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat, the squad favored by many to win it all this year. It was surreal – and this proved to be the theme from jumpball to the final buzzer. This is my attempt to capture in words what I would describe as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

With the Knicks on the brink of elimination, I was impressed with how the die-hard fans were gushing into the Garden, all gung-ho about New York possibly winning this time despite having nothing to show for in the past 3 games or the past 13 playoff games since 2001 for that matter.

The energy was intoxicating – from the pre-game routines, team introductions to the tip-off, until in an instant the scoreboard quickly showed MIA 8-1 NYK. The whole arena seemed to singularly hold its breath and shake its head. While the Knicks were struggling to generate a flow to their offense, Miami kept scoring, and made it look easy too with open jump shots and driving layups. But the Knicks fought back, clawing their way to a 20-18 first quarter lead thanks to 14 points from Anthony and Stoudemire. The two underperforming stars of this series played with a purpose in the first, giving the New York hopefuls reason to hope.

To begin the second quarter, the Heat put their heads down and went to work. Miami throttled for 12 straight points while holding New York scoreless for over 5 minutes for a 30-20 lead. Somehow, everyone knew this was coming. The Big 3 took control by calling for pick and roll plays and keeping the ball moving. In stark contrast, the Knicks kept running isolation plays or settled for shots beyond the arc. But again, the Knicks fought back, with Anthony leading the charge with 10 points in the quarter that came from everywhere: an outside jump shot, contested inside putbacks, a hard cut for a layup, and 4 gimmes from the line. Anthony personified the fight that New York still had in them, and did so most of all in a defensive play when Melo kept battling with Lebron on the post that resulted to a double foul call. Anthony was not backing down that night, not to Lebron and not to these Heat. The Knicks were down 6, but were definitely not out. The crowd knew this too, up on their feet cheering their team at sound of the first half horn.

At the start the third quarter, the Heat got the jump on the Knicks yet again, working a 7-2 run in the first 3:20 of the third to take an 11-point lead. At that point, it felt like that was the game, the series, and the 2011-2012 season for New York. Miami has been a big-time third quarter team all season, going for the kill and taking out the fight from opposing squads even before the fourth (this is best showcased during the 39-12 third quarter drubbing of the San Antonio Spurs on January 17, 2012). Against the odds, though, the Knicks didn’t take long to respond. Amar’e manned up to score 5 big points to trigger a 10-0 run, cutting the lead to the slightest of margins and seize momentum from Miami. New York even showed good team defense on the succeeding play, stifling Lebron’s drive attempt, grabbed the
rebound and were off to the races with Baron Davis leading the break with a chance to retake the lead.

But for the 14th straight night, destiny seemed not to side with New York. A twist of fate, more like a knee, punched the air out of the Garden’s gut as Davis crumbled to the ground untouched, immediately clutching his grotesquely deformed right knee. Another knockdown for the Knicks, and this one felt like there was no getting up.

Incidentally, down 0-3 in the series, the home team’s battle cry for this game was “Rise Up.” And rise up they did, with Melo having a hand in all the 14 points the Knicks scored till the end of the third, at one point giving New York a 6-point lead, its highest in the game, before James tempers the excitement by swishing a cold-hearted 3-ball – and this won’t be his last – to usher the fourth quarter. The Knicks turned it around in the third to lead 64-61 heading to the payoff period.

It would be a dogfight from here on out, with 7 ties and 6 lead changes until the final buzzer. Dwayne Wade, having a relatively quiet game with only 11 points through 3 quarters, joins in on cue to take over the 4th for the Heat with 11 more points of his own and keep the pressure on New York. This time, the rest of the Knicks crew (yeah, there were players other than Melo in this game) had Melo’s back, they scored just enough points to hang around with Heat to give Anthony a chance to win the game and send the series back to Miami. In a legendary performance, Melo matched the Big 3 point for point to tie it at 81-all, setting the stage for a remarkable finish with 2 minutes left to play.

After a huge stop on one end that had Miami settle with a Bosh missed 3, New York calls up JR Smith’s number for a 1-4 insolation play with Anthony and Bibby on the wings and Chalmers on his face. With a strong drive to his left, Smith beats out Chalmers forcing Wade to sag off Bibby help close the lane. JR makes the right play and sets up Bibby for a wide open big-time three that was reminiscent of his top-playing form in Sacramento. The crowd exploded, filling the arena with deafening chants of “Beat the Heat!” Looking around, you see it everywhere, the hope and the belief that this night, they really would. With the Knicks up 84-81 with 1:24 left, I actually believed it too.

Lebron would have none of it. With the Knicks still celebrating Bibby’s 3, James ran to the top left three point area, found himself wide open, and coolly sank a game-tying 3-ball of his own in all of 8 seconds that hushed the host city and iced their fantasies of the first New York playoff win in a decade. James swung a hard right cross that shook the Knicks.

Now it was Melo’s turn, and this was Melo’s night. In another isolation play up top, facing one of the best perimeter defenders in Shane Battier, Anthony puts on a quick 2 -step hesitation move that freezes Battier for a split second, and that was all Melo needed to drop the go-ahead 3-pointer and bring the hushed masses to their feet and back to life. On the next offensive set, Melo beats Battier to the shot again, and
gets fouled beyond the arc for 3 free throws that would have all but sealed the win. And in New York up-and-down fashion, Melo stumbled; agonizingly missing the first two shots before making the third to make it a 2-possession game with 26 ticks left. Melo counters with a crisp 1-2 that had the Heat staggering.

But Miami wasn’t out yet. Lebron quickly drives hard in the middle and completes and-one play to bring the Heat within 1 point with 20 seconds left. They foul Amar’e to stop the clock, and Stoudemire toys with New York’s emotions by missing the second, giving Miami a chance to tie or even win it at the buzzer.

For the final drama in this amazing Melo-versus-Lebron showdown, Spoelstra somehow called up Wade and handed him the offense. From the top of the key, Wade drove hard inside to the right with Stoudemire on his heels defending. With Landry Fields rushing to help, Flash somehow lost the ball momentarily and decided to change his course outside with the defense closing in. He flashed to the right sideline corner and fired a three that could have won it for the Heat, but it clanged off at the sound of the buzzer to signal the win for the New York Knicks.

In Melo’s face, I saw relief, in Lebron’s disgust, and all around me I saw pure joy in all of that celebration. The hard-core die-hard Knicks deserved this one, they had fate, they believed, and were handsomely rewarded by a thrilling game that was one for the ages. I felt lucky to be a part of it all, this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I don’t know when I would be able to watch another live playoff game again. But I do know that this New York win will be the only one in this series, and possibly the only one in the Heat’s Big 2 era of Lebron James and Dwayne Wade if they ever meet Miami again in the post-season.

At this time though, what I think doesn’t matter. To New York, drink it up these net three days, keep the fate and hold on to that belief for the next game on Wednesday. Thanks for having me celebrate with you tonight.

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