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Friday, May 12, 2023

Heat Outlast Knicks, Advance to the Eastern Conference Finals

Barely a month ago, the 44-38 Miami Heat lost to the 41-41 Atlanta Hawks in the first game of the Play-In Tournament, forcing the Heat to win their next Play-In Tournament game to avoid missing the playoffs. The Heat beat the Chicago Bulls 102-91 to slip into the playoffs, but they seemed unlikely to make much noise in the postseason. Tonight, the Heat beat the New York Knicks 96-92 to win their second round series 4-2 and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. This may not be the most improbable playoff run in NBA history--it should be remembered that last season the Heat finished with the Eastern Conference's best record (53-29)--but it is on the short list. Jimmy Butler led the way with 24 points, but he shot just 7-22 from the field in a defensive struggle (or offensive quagmire, depending on your perspective) during which the Heat shot .402 from the field and the Knicks shot .380 from the field. Bam Adebayo scored 23 points on 9-20 field goal shooting, and he had a team-high nine rebounds. Max Strus contributed 14 points and six rebounds, while Kyle Lowry made a significant impact off of the bench with 11 points and a game-high nine assists.

Jalen Brunson completed one of the most prolific playoff series in Knicks' history (31.0 ppg) by scoring 41 points on 14-22 field goal shooting. Brunson joined Bernard King as the only players in the Knicks' storied history to score at least 30 points in four games in one playoff series. He played 45 minutes after playing all 48 minutes in New York's game five win. When Brunson was in the game, the Knicks' offense ran more smoothly than it did during his brief rest, even on possessions when he did not take the shot and did not make the assist pass. In the first half, the Knicks outscored the Heat by six points when Brunson was in the game, and the Heat outscored the Knicks by seven points when Brunson was not in the game, resulting in a 51-50 halftime lead for the Heat.

Julius Randle had a miserable shooting game, even by the low standard set by both teams: he shot just 3-14 from the field, finishing with 15 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. R.J. Barrett was even worse, managing just 11 points on 1-10 field goal shooting. Josh Hart scored his 11 points much more efficiently on 5-10 field goal shooting, but no other Knick scored in double figures. 

The Knicks raced to a 31-17 first quarter lead, but their anemic offense could not keep up that pace or maintain that margin; the Knicks scored just 19, 21, and 21 points in the final three quarters, and the Heat outscored them in each stanza. The Heat led 51-50 at halftime, and even though they never pushed that margin into double digits they also never trailed again.

Despite the disappointing ending--and contrary to the obnoxious wailing "Screamin' A" Smith does--this was a successful season for the Knicks: how many people would have predicted before the season that this squad would be playing in game six in the second round of the playoffs? The Knicks need to add some more scoring and playmaking to go to the next level, but a good foundation is in place because this team is well-coached, physical, and defensive-minded. If you listen to "Screamin' A"--and no one can blame you if don't--all you hear is him making infantile, immature rants about New York's players without giving any credit to Miami's defense and without providing any analysis about what actually happened during the game. The Heat trapped Brunson, angled the left-handed point guard to the right side of the court, and cut down his passing lanes, a task made easier because the Knicks do not have a reliable secondary playmaker and they do not have enough outside shooting to punish that kind of defense. Brunson did the best that he could do, but he needs a little more help. The Knicks did not get blown out, nor did they quit; they just came up a little short.

It is difficult to know what to make of the Heat, other than acknowledging that they are a rare proverbial "team nobody wants to face" that has lived up to that usually false designation. Erik Spoelstra is a great coach, and Jimmy Butler is a big-time player. Bam Adebayo is undersized but he is skilled and he plays hard. Kyle Lowry is an aging, undersized player with physical limitations, but he is very intelligent and he has a bulldog mentality. The Heat's role players understand their roles, accept their roles, and are prepared to perform every game. In retrospect, perhaps it is more surprising that the Heat had a mediocre regular season--injuries obviously had an impact, though they are showing the ability to overcome injuries during their playoff run--than that they are performing at a high level in the playoffs.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:47 PM



At Sunday, May 14, 2023 7:18:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm proud of the Knicks this season. They definitely out performed my expectations and Brunson is a fab pickup. Looking forward to next season.

At Sunday, May 14, 2023 7:46:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


You sound like a logical and reasonable person. Just tune out "Screamin' A" and rightfully enjoy what was a very good season for your Knicks.


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