Heat turn fans into Garden-variety crowd

NEW YORK -- The fans at Madison Square Garden gave it their best for one half.

They booed the Miami Heat trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- especially James -- with passionate fervor. They gave a regular-season game in December the feel of a playoff battle in June.

But just like the New York Knicks' performance, that intensity wasn't long-lasting.

As Miami boosted its lead to double digits in the second half, the energy in the building was zapped. James would score while on his way to a triple-double, and there would be more applause than disgust. Raucous fans became casual observers.

The scene at Madison Square Garden on Friday night was a tale of two halves during the Knicks' 113-91 loss to the Heat. The Garden seemed back to its reputation of being one of the greatest basketball venues in the country during the first half, but lost its juice as the game went on.

"The first half every single shot we made the whole place was going nuts," said season-ticket holder Mike Ferrara, 24. "After halftime you didn't feel that same energy. That energy wasn't there in the second half and I think that sixth man on the court just wasn't there."

Early on, the excitement from Wednesday night's last-second loss to the Celtics carried over. Fans wore "Beat the Heat" T-shirts and other shirts mocking James, who spurned the Knicks in free agency to sign with Miami. The fans couldn't even make it through the national anthem without getting loud, with some of them cursing at James and the rest clapping and getting loud.

When James was finally introduced after Wade and Bosh, the fans blasted him with a huge boo, compared to the cheers he received when he came as a Cavalier. Whenever James touched the ball, he would get pelted with a chorus of boos. When Bosh went to the free throw line, chants of "Over-rated!" rained down. Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire heard chants of "MVP!" as he slammed home a few dunks.

"When we walked in, [my wife] said that she hadn't seen the Garden like this in a long, long time," Knicks legend Earl Monroe said. "I think that speaks volumes for what the team is doing and how they are doing it."

In the second half, though, the Knicks (16-11) struggled early. Fans started filing out of the building with five minutes left in the contest and the game's result a mere formality.

The biggest cheers in the second half came when the JumboTron showed celebrities such as actor Tracy Morgan, rappers Fabolous and Drake, and New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck in the crowd. Other celebrities at the game included actor Liam Neeson and musicians Joe Jonas and Maxwell.

Before the game, longtime Knicks fan Spike Lee said he expected this game would top the atmosphere of the previous two games against Boston and Denver.

"New York City loves basketball and they've wanted to have a reason to cheer for the Knicks," Lee said. "You can't fool New Yorkers, especially Knicks fans. We know what's what and we know this team has great potential."

For one half, Lee's assessment was right on. The other half elicited memories of the previous eight seasons, when poor basketball graced the hardwood at the Garden and the fans were left wanting more.

Matt Ehalt is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.