The Miami Heat will get another chance to eliminate the New York Knicks in their first round playoff series on Wednesday, when their primary task will be shutting down Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.
A quick glance at the box score from Game 4 quickly reveals why the Knicks were able to pull out their first win of the series. It was the only game of the series so far when 'Melo shot over 50 percent from the field. After shooting a combined 22 of 64 in Games 1-3, he erupted for 40 points Sunday on 15 of 29 shooting from the field.
One factor was readily apparent Sunday, when Anthony scored 4 points in the final minute to help put the Heat away: Miami forward Shane Battier does not appear up to the task to guarding 'Melo. And even when he defended the Knicks' main scorer well, Anthony would often knock down a tough jumper with a hand in his face, like he did from three-point range late in Game 4.
The numbers back up the anecdotal evidence as well. According to ESPN.com, Anthony is shooting 53 percent during the series when Battier defends him, compared to just 29 percent when LeBron James guards him. So where was LeBron in the fourth quarter of Game 4? Guarding Knicks center Tyson Chandler, as per head coach Erik Spoelstra's instructions.
Spoelstra forced himself into that position when he paired the Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with Battier and Mike Miller. Battier and Miller, both sharpshooters from three-point range, are the best complements to the Big 3 on offense, but Battier might not be the defensive wizard he once was.
However, it should be noted that Miami might not have needed to shut down Anthony late in the game if the Heat weren't so cold from three-point range on Sunday. Miami shot just 3 of 19 from downtown (16 percent), far below their season average of 36 percent.
Regardless, Spoelstra will have to make a choice on Wednesday that could end up playing a big role in determining the outcome of Game 5: keep Battier on Anthony, or move James onto Battier and sub in Udonis Haslem (who would cover Tyson Chandler) for Battier.
In the past Spoelstra has seemed slow to react to changing circumstances on the court, a fact that earned him some criticism following the Heat's loss to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals. His stubbornness was underscored by the decision to keep Battier in against Anthony in crunch time on Game 4.
Spoelstra may still believe that Battier can handle the task of stopping Anthony in the clutch, but for the sake of expediency, he should yield to 'Melo and put James on Anthony if he wants to give his team its best chance at a Game 5 victory.