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Saturday, May 06, 2023

Heat Chill Knicks, Take 2-1 Series Lead

The Miami Heat never trailed, never stopped hustling, and never left a doubt about their superiority while beating the New York Knicks 105-86 to take a 2-1 series lead. Jimmy Butler missed game two because of a sprained right ankle and he was listed as questionable prior to the start of game three, but he proved to be the best player on the court not only because of his game-high 28 points but also because of his energy, defense, and playmaking; he was only credited with three assists, but this game is a great example of how a player can create plays without piling up a large number of assists. The New York defense had to shift to help out Butler's primary defender, which created passing angles for Butler and space for his teammates to cut; Butler consistently made the correct reads and the correct passes, even if the next pass after Butler's pass became the assist pass. This is a significant part of playing winning basketball, because there are many NBA players who prefer racking up assists to racking up wins, and those players hesitate to make non-assist passes: they either shoot or else they make a pass that they believe is likely to result in a shot attempt (which is not always the optimal pass for the team). The Heat's other double figure scorers were Max Strus (19 points), Bam Adebayo (17 points, team-high 12 rebounds), and Kyle Lowry (14 points).

Hubie Brown provided the color commentary on the ABC broadcast. I believe this was his first national telecast since he did game three of the Atlanta-Boston first round series. Even though Brown is no longer a lead color commentator doing every game in the most high profile series, it is obvious that he does his research and knows the strengths and weaknesses of the players and the teams. In the first quarter, Brown noted that the Heat already led 18-8 in points in the paint, and he said that was a bad sign for the Knicks. Brown repeatedly emphasized the importance of attacking the paint, noting that even if doing so does not result in points early in the game it has the effect of wearing down the opponent and creating easier shot opportunities later in the game (Lakers fans should hope that Anthony Davis and LeBron James take note). At the other end of the court, Brown pointed out that the Heat's multiple efforts on each defensive possession shut down the Knicks' halfcourt offense. Both observations proved prescient: the Heat outscored the Knicks in the paint 50-36--nearly matching the margin of victory--and the Heat shut down the Knicks' halfcourt offense, holding New York to .341 field goal shooting, including .200 from beyond the arc. 

Jalen Brunson led the Knicks with 20 points, but the Heat harassed him into 7-20 field goal shooting. Josh Hart added 15 points and 12 rebounds. Brown loves Hart's game: "Hart is like the maintenance man--he's everywhere." R.J. Barrett struggled to make a shot (14 points, 5-16 field goal shooting), and Julius Randle was more off target (10 points, 4-15 field goal shooting) than Knick fan "Screamin' A" Smith acting like he understands basketball; it would be wonderful if someone explained to Smith (1) no one cares which team he likes, (2) no one cares how much he wants to go to South Beach (he reportedly makes at least $12 million a year, so he can go there whenever he wants, and true basketball fans wish he would just go there and stay off the airwaves), and (3) having access to coaches and players does not confer basketball wisdom unless you use that access for the purpose of gaining greater understanding.

Smith and Mike Wilbon love dropping names, but no one watching cares who they met and who they know, particularly when it is apparent that having NBA legends on speed dial is not helping Smith or Wilbon understand the sport. It should be noted and emphasized that Wilbon has been an excellent general sports columnist for a long time (his tribute to legendary sports writer Shirley Povich is wonderful and he wrote a great remembrance of Sam Lacy as well)--but his NBA takes are often off target, and that has been true for a long time. Granted, Wilbon sounds like the voice of reason when sitting next to "Screamin A," but that is a bar so low that an earthworm could hurdle over it.

Recently, I listened to a Jeff Van Gundy radio interview during which he correctly noted that in-game adjustments and adjustments in general are highly overrated, a point that he often makes during telecasts. "Play harder" is Van Gundy's recommendation for the best "adjustment" that any team can make. I don't think that it is a coincidence that we rarely if ever see Van Gundy on the same telecast with Wilbon, "Screamin' A," McMenamin, or Windhorst, and I cannot ever recall listening to Van Gundy discuss/debate basketball on air with any of those guys--and the reason for that is evident: much of what those guys say that is supposed to be basketball wisdom would be contradicted by anyone who understands the sport and is not afraid to contradict them. I am not talking about the unwatchable exchanges between "Screamin' A" and Wilbon, nor am I talking about the restraint and diplomacy that the perceptive Jalen Rose employs when he contradicts "Screamin' A" and Wilbon; I am talking about someone looking Wilbon, "Screamin' A," McMenamin, or Windhorst in the eye and telling the full truth about in-game adjustments and about how to correctly evaluate/rank players. Listening to ESPN's "experts" during the pregame show and then listening to Brown or Van Gundy during games is as different as listening to a delusional person screaming gibberish versus listening to a subject matter expert calmly providing relevant analysis.

Speaking of "adjustments," the most important thing for the Knicks to do in game four is to match the Heat's energy and intensity. The Heat are missing Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo, and Jimmy Butler is not at full strength, but every Heat player plays hard on every possession, and that has been the biggest difference in this series.

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posted by David Friedman @ 8:24 PM



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