MIAMI — Jeremy Lin collided with LeBron James shortly after tip-off, stumbling backward.
With that, the tone was set.
And Lin’s rise from unknown to stardom hit its first major snag.
Chris Bosh scored 25 points, Dwyane Wade added 22 and James put up 20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, five steals and two blocks — the first such stat line in the NBA since James himself had a night like that four years ago — as the league-leading Miami Heat stopped Lin and the New York Knicks 102-88 on Thursday night.
It was Miami’s eighth straight win, all coming by at least 12 points.
“A learning experience,” Lin said afterward, before heading to Orlando for his role in All-Star weekend. “A tough one.”
Lin’s final line: 1 for 11 from the field, eight points, three assists and eight turnovers — a long way 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.
Not this time. Lin paid the Heat a great compliment, saying their defense made it tough to even dribble.
“First of all, he deserves all of the credit he’s been given,” Wade said. “We knew it was going to be a tough task guarding him. … He’s a good player, but we put a lot of pressure on him and it was a success.”
The scene was electric, and for much of the night, the game matched the hype.
Spike Lee, Floyd Mayweather Jr. 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.”
When Air Force One was headed to Orlando for a Thursday night fundraiser, yes, there were televisions tuned to Heat-Knicks on board.
“This has been about a three-week push for us and it’s a good way to end before the break,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I think everyone in that locker room needs a handful of days. We’ve been really focused … to make this push. We played a team that with more time they’re going to improve and become a very dangerous team. They already are right now.”
The Heat defense wasn’t geared just toward Lin, but rather slowing the entire Knicks’ offense. New York shot 39 percent, turned the ball over 19 times and had 10 shots blocked — five of them by Miami center Joel Anthony, who also had six rebounds and took only one shot, which he missed.
“I’m sure they were all geeked up for him,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said of the Heat defense against Lin. “And they took the challenge and they did a great job. It’s hard to be Peter Pan every day.”
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.
Lin had two assists in the first 1:26 of the game. He had one in the final 46:34.
“He’s a good player, a really good player,” James said of Lin. “And they’re going to do some great things. But for us, we come in and take care of business.”
Said Carmelo Anthony, who led the Knicks with 19 points: “We have some work to do. Nobody said it would happen overnight.”
J.R. Smith scored 14 for New York off the bench. Stoudemire finished with 13 and Steve Novak scored 12 for the Knicks, who never led in the second half.
Early on, back and forth they went, just as everyone wanted.
“It’s always big when the Knicks come in,” Bosh said. “They have that New York-Miami thing. The crowd enjoyed it. And we enjoyed it.”
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.”
Lin said he was already eager for the second half to start.
“I’m not going to hang my head or anything like that,” Lin said. “I know I went out there and I played hard. Can’t win ’em all. Can’t have a great game every game. But at the same time, I need to understand, ‘OK, what’d I do wrong? How can I improve?’ I think that’s going to be exciting.”
NOTES: Wade spoke to the sellout crowd before the game, thanking them on behalf of the NBA and especially the six All-Star weekend-bound Heat players for their support the first half of the season. … A number of arena workers snapped photos of Lin as he warmed up on the court about two hours before game time. … In Orlando, where All-Star festivities were getting under way, NBA Commissioner David Stern said “it’s fair to say that no player has created the interest and the frenzy in this short period of time, in any sport, that I’m aware of like Jeremy Lin has.”