The Miami Heat clearly weren't having it. They were 27-6 in their second season of the Post-Decision era. LeBron James' exodus had turned the Heat into the WWE Heels of the league, and their overwhelming talent fit the role they had cast themselves into. They bullied teams into submission repeatedly.
The New York Knicks had just clawed their way to .500 despite trading for Carmelo Anthony the year prior, and had not molded into the title contender Knicks fans had hoped for when the Melo trade went down. This didn't stop them from getting round-the-clock coverage, and it was more than justified.
Somehow, the story leading into the game wasn't how the Knicks would be able to keep pace with the flying death machine that the Heat had become so far in that season. The story was how a team featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would handle an undrafted point guard out of Harvard.
Linsanity was at a fever pitch heading into February 23, 2014. In Jeremy Lin's first nine games of the 2011-12 season, he'd scored a combined 32 points. And then, for whatever reason, something clicked.
He sparked the Knicks with a 25-point, 7-assist night out of nowhere in a win against the Nets.
That started one of the most inexplicable runs in NBA history. In the 11-game stretch starting with the Nets win, Lin averaged 23.9 points and 9.2 assists per game. These weren't just empty, inefficient numbers, either. Lin's numbers stacked up to the rest of the league's best.
Lin didn't look the part of the typical NBA superstar and certainly didn't have the pedigree. Some NBA draftniks were fans, but nobody saw this stretch coming.
Lin's bread-and-butter was the pick and roll, and he had immediate chemistry with Tyson Chandler and Amar'e Stoudemire and also leveraged Steve Novak's shooting to create the most inexplicably relevant stretch in the forward's career.
Being in New York, the already insane stretch was magnified ten-fold. What may have been an inexplicably good stretch in most cities was an absolute phenomenon, and with Linsanity rolling into Miami just ahead of the All-Star break, people wanted to know how the Heat planned to stop the sensation.
Ahead of the game, the Heat's stars were respectful, but seemed to downplay the importance of guarding Lin.
"It's not about Jeremy Lin versus LeBron James . . . It's the Miami Heat versus the New York Knicks," said Dwyane Wade.
That sounds nice, but in truth, Wade and James argued over who would get to guard Lin. The Heat clearly didn't appreciate being asked about how they'd handle someone that wasn't anywhere in their league, and man, did they show it.
The Heat built their entire defense around ruining Lin's night.
Their point guards picked up Lin at full court, and attacked his dribble. Turnovers were the one wart Lin had during the magical run, and the Heat exposed this to great effect.
Every time Lin tried to run his bread-and-butter high pick and roll, the Heat would launch both defenders at him with a hard trap. If he was able to find a path to the rim, the Heat were there to meet him to either draw a charge, challenge the shot or deflect the meager kickout Lin was attempting. Lin, for all of his craft and timing, wasn't athletic enough to handle it.
The Heat were built to end all of the nonsense. They had terrifying athleticism and length on the perimeter, and bigs that could trap nearly out to half court and still recover back to their man. Lin didn't have a chance.
In truth, the pressure started the second the ball was put in his hands and didn't stop until he had to desperately fling the ball away, whether it found the hands of a teammate, an opponent, or just flew out of bounds. The Heat allowed no oxygen to enter the Knicks offense, and Lin was suffocated.
He made his first field goal attempt before missing his next ten, and Miami forced eight turnovers to only three assists in a 102-88 Heat blowout win.
It was truly demoralizing, and Lin knew it.
"I felt like they were all like hawks circling me and staring," he said after the game.
It was such an overwhelming defeat that even President Barack Obama even compared himself to the Heat and Mitt Romney to Lin when discussing campaign strategy.
The narrative going into the game was ripped from a fantasy novel. A young, upstart hero challenges the evil empire and triumphs against all odds. I'm sure most of the beat writers covering the game already had the outline of their recap written. The Heat took that narrative and blew it to pieces.
The way the Heat demoralized and defeated Lin was emblematic of how they dominated the NBA at their best while LeBron was in South Beach. They ruthlessly attacked ball-handlers, swooped into passing lanes and choked out teams. They didn't just sit back and play smart, sound defense. They just attacked, and almost nobody was able to withstand it.
Lin had strong performances later into the season after the Miami beat-down, but the mystique had gone. It was fitting, though. If Linsanity had to go, it wasn't going to just wither away slowly. Linsanity was a spectacle, and it had to leave as spectacularly as it entered.
The Heat were the bullies of the NBA in 2012. Unfortunately for Jeremy Lin, in real life, sometimes the bullies just win, and they do so in brutal fashion.