MIAMI – You may have heard the big news out of New York last week: The Knicks finally got Carmelo Anthony.
Perhaps lost in the shuffle of Melomania was that Chauncey Billups made the trip from Denver as well — and that move is already looking brilliant for the Knicks.
Billups made a long 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:01 left over Dwyane Wade's outstretched arm to give New York the lead for good Sunday night, and the Knicks — beaten on the road two nights earlier by lowly Cleveland — got their first signature win since shaking up their roster by beating the Miami Heat 91-86.
"We know how important he is to this team and what he brings," Anthony said. "His play, his leadership, getting guys where they need to be at out there on the court. And the most important thing is hitting that big shot."
Billups hardly did it alone.
Anthony scored 29 points and Amare Stoudemire finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and one giant blocked shot of a James attempt to protect a one-point lead with 7 seconds remaining. But it was the guy known as "Mr. Big Shot" — "he didn't get that name for no reason," Anthony said — who controlled the final minutes, when New York ended the game on a 13-2 run.
"He's definitely not a throw-in," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's the one with the ring."
Billups finished with 16 points for New York, including a pair of 3-pointers in a 16-0 run that closed the first half and started swinging everything the Knicks' way. Miami led 51-36 with 4 minutes to go before intermission, then found itself down 52-51 at the break and in a nip-and-tuck contest the rest of the night.
That is, until New York made all the big plays in the last 3 minutes.
James scored 27 for Miami, which had won seven straight at home. Chris Bosh added 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Wade finished with 12 points and nine assists for the Heat — who had 20 turnovers, matching the fourth-most forced by New York this season.
"We will have our breakthrough," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "And as painful as this is right now, there will be a time that we break through and we're able to execute and win a game like this against a quality opponent going down the stretch. What you hope is that the pain of a game like this resonates enough to make a change."
With New York up by one, Bill Walker turned the ball over with 12.7 seconds left when he was unable to handle an inbounds pass, and Miami had its chance.
James drove on Anthony down the left side of the lane, but Stoudemire swatted the two-time reigning MVP's try away.
"I watched it the whole way," Stoudemire said. "I knew what he was going to do."
Said James: "I felt like I got enough room around 'Melo ... and he just got a piece of it."
James had another chance, but his potentially tiebreaking 3-pointer missed with 2 seconds left, and the Knicks leaped in celebration.
What made it worse for Miami was that the game was there for the taking, the Heat leading 84-78 with 3:05 left.
Predictably, the game was a double-feature of sorts — part showdown, part show.
Knicks superfan Spike Lee was having a conversation with Landry Fields during pregame warmups. Actor Michael Clarke Duncan and soccer star Thierry Henry had prime seats, tennis star Venus Williams appeared and Miami's notoriously late-settling crowd was in place in plenty of time to lustily boo New York's starters as they were introduced.
"The atmosphere was crazy," Knicks guard Anthony Carter said.
Oh, there was a game, too.
Shawne Williams blocked Erick Dampier down low 2 minutes into the game. No problem — James simply knocked the ball away from Stoudemire, then threw a no-look, backward-over-his-head pass to Dampier for a dunk. A minute later, James dribbled behind his back to get clear of Billups, slapped the ball to Wade, then received an alley-oop pass back and slammed it with his left hand.
How good was that one? Someone posted the clip to YouTube within 8 minutes.
All the highlights at the end, however, were provided by the Knicks.
A 9-2 run over the next 3 minutes, capped by Billups' 3-pointer over Wade, gave the Knicks an 85-84 edge — and few people in the sellout crowd remained seated at that point.
James said before the game that he found it comical that some may have considered Billups to be an ancillary part of the Knicks-Nuggets deal.
Down the stretch, Billups showed why James was right.
"Different jersey, different everything, but the pride and passion stay the same," Billups said.