The fear was that things would turn ugly, that the mutual dislike between the Heat and the New York Knicks would spill over into a brawl Friday night.
They fought, all right. The Knicks fought for their lives, and the Heat fought off boredom in punching out a 94-79 win at Miami Arena in Game 1 of this first-round best-of-five playoff series.
The Heat, which eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs last season, will try to take a 2-0 lead Sunday afternoon when the teams meet here in Game 2.
"We obviously got off to a great, great start," said Heat coach Pat Riley, whose team led by as many as 21 points in the first half before New York rallied to within eight in the final quarter. "They made a great push at us, but we stayed the course."
Miami guard Tim Hardaway, who buried New York with a 38-point performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals a year ago, put the Knicks on their collective backs in this opener. Hardaway, often left open when the Knicks double-teamed, scored 34 points, 24 in the first half when the Heat led big.
He got to New York mostly from the outside, where the Heat unleashed a hail of three-point baskets. Hardaway hit six of the Heat's 11 three-pointers. The Heat, in fact, shot 42.3 percent from three-point land, which was better than its overall shooting from the floor (39.7 percent).
Just about everything the Heat did Friday was impressive _ except for New York's third-quarter rally. Lest anyone forget, this was the same Heat team that came into the post-season dragging noticeably. Miami had lost five of its last seven regular-season games, including the last three in a row.
But the Heat was golden in Game 1, especially early. Miami outrebounded New York 26-16 in the first half and committed just four turnovers in that time. Even when things started to fall apart and New York started coming back, Miami got some jarring play, particularly from reserve guard Eric Murdock. He scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, which helped the Heat withstand the Knicks' charge, and gave Miami its fourth straight playoff win over New York.
"The pressure was totally on us because we were at home and we hadn't played well down the stretch in the regular season," Riley said. "I think getting off to a great start gave us a lot of confidence and basically we were able to hold the fort."
Mind you, the Heat did all of this against the second-best defensive team in the league. The Knicks, which allowed an average of 89 points during the regular season, didn't play anywhere near the defensive level it had established.
New York gave up 30 first-quarter points and 57 in the opening half, the most Miami has scored in the first half of a playoff game.
Heck, the Heat didn't even really need Alonzo Mourning (11 points). The All-Star center played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble, but he wasn't really missed. Power forward P.J. Brown had 12 points and 10 rebounds, guard Voshon Lenard threw in 10 points and small forward Dan Majerle added eight.
"In the first half, they put it to us, and put it to us good," conceded Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy. "We don't want to be deceived by making a little run because when a team is up by 20 at halftime, they let down."
The Knicks looked oddly out of synch early. Allan Houston, the team's top scorer with All-Star center Patrick Ewing out, couldn't shake Majerle long enough to get many decent shots. He was 2 of 9 from the floor for eight points in the first half and 5 of 18 for 17 points in the game.
"We can't kid ourselves. We didn't played with a lot intensity," Knicks forward Larry Johnson said. "We didn't play flat. They just got us on our heels. They had good penetration and they hit their threes."
With Houston bottled up, Johnson became the Knicks' chief scorer. He had 21 points, but only four in the fourth quarter when the Knicks' rally fizzled as it scored just 16 points. John Starks added 14 points off the bench and Charles Oakley contributed 10, plus 12 rebounds.