Jeremy Lin receives a few words of encouragement from Knicks fan Spike Lee, who typically sits courtside at Madison Square Garden but made the trip to Miami to watch his team take on the powerhouse Heat. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

by Amy Shipley

Already considered the league’s biggest villain, the black-suited Miami Heat shut down basketball’s most beloved underdog Thursday night to bring an end to a breathless, occasionally hysterical 20-day run.

In a rare game in which megastars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade could not be credited for the throngs that packed American Airlines Arena, New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin looked overmatched for the first time since he became a starter Feb. 4.

Savaged by the Heat’s relentless defense, he tallied as many turnovers — eight — as points. He stood by helplessly at the wrong end of a host of highlights. He looked either fatigued, or sluggish, or overwhelmed — or, perhaps, all three in the 102-88 defeat to the Heat. For one night at least, Linsanity died down.

“They were all geeked up for him,” Knicks Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They took the challenge and did a great job. It’s hard to be Peter Pan every day.”

Lin failed to reach double figures for the first time since he entered the starting lineup, hitting just 1 of 11 shots from the field. He committed six of his eight turnovers in the first half and managed just three assists after leading New York to a 9-2 record and averaging 23.9 points during that stretch.

In the nationally televised contest that brought the Heat as many media requests as for last year’s NBA Finals, Lin struggled from the start. He didn’t have a single superb moment all night, ending more than two weeks of steady play and late-game brilliance.

“They did a great job of making me uncomfortable,” Lin said. “I can’t remember another game where it was just hard to take dribbles.”

Knowing Lin had become a master operator running off of high pick-and-rolls, the defensive-minded Heat brought pressure early on. Just more than two minutes into the game, guard Mario Chalmers stripped Lin as he was bringing the ball upcourt and turned the steal into a running dunk. Backup Norris Cole pulled the same maneuver near midcourt precisely seven seconds after Lin reported in after a stint on the bench in the second quarter, also finishing with a dunk.

“They’re all quick, long, strong guys,” D’Antoni said. “He hasn’t seen that yet. He’ll adjust to that.”

Other lowlights for Lin included an air ball, a host of rushed shots, a turnover that led to a slam dunk by James. His inconsistency seemed contagious; New York shot just 39.2 percent and committed 15 first-half turnovers. Carmelo Anthony led with 19 points and J.R. Smith added 14 off the bench. The Heat blocked 10 shots.

“I’m not going to hang my head, or anything like that,” Lin said. “You can’t win them all. You can’t have a great game every time. At the same time, I need to understand what did I do wrong and how can I improve.”

The game offered a marquee matchup, with the Linsation meeting arguably the league’s best team. Miami had won 10 of 11 games and seven straight — now eight — by at least 12 points. James, who has dominated early most valuable player talk, scored 20 points as the Heat was led by Chris Bosh, who scored 25, and Wade, who got 22.

“The atmosphere in the arena spoke for itself,” Wade said. “We knew how many people was tuning into this game for different reasons.”

Undrafted out of Harvard and cut twice in the preseason, Lin earned himself two straight Sports Illustrated covers with his marvelous play over the past two weeks. His play Thursday sent him into the all-star break eager for some rest.

“There's a lot to learn,” he said. “I’m very far from where I want to be.”