NBA Playoffs: Heat beat Knicks at their own game to take 3-1 series lead

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One of the few times the Knicks looked like themselves in this second- series came with just under six minutes to go in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Trailing by 3 points and staring into a 2-0 hole, New York dug deep and began imposing its will on the Jimmy Butler-less Heat, pounding the paint during a trip that featured two shots unpleasant reboundsTwo loose ball foul drawn and finally, a corner 3-pointer Josh Hart that tied the game and changed the vibe inside Madison Square Garden.

Hart's 3 capped off a hard-charging sequence that spanned 67 seconds of playing time, but felt, in the words of Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, “like four minutes of possession”. It was the kind of physical, accurate extended play that New York produced throughout the regular season en route to the NBA Second-highest offensive rebound rate And third-most second-chance points and a win over the unseeded Cavaliers in Round 1 of their opening round series. The Knicks got to the finish line from there, outscoring the Heat 18–9 over the last 4:45 to win Game 2 and tie the series as it went back. to miami.

“The things we take pride in – the ball in the air, the ball on the floor – they're dominated [in] Those last six minutes,” Spoelstra said.

How fitting then for the Heat to send the series back to MSG, and the Knicks within one loss of elimination with several similar sequences. Miami has taken everything else from New York over the past eight days – its speed, its offensive efficiency, its defensive positioning. Why not even recognize it?

Miami could barely afford a bucket in the fourth quarter of Game 4 on Monday, shooting 6-for-23 from the field and missing all nine of its 3-point attempts. It didn't matter, though, because the Heat — who finished just outside the bottom 10 in offensive rebounding rate during the regular seasonand who made less than 20% of their own mistakes against Milwaukee round 1 — Rebounded seven of those 17 final-frame misses, turning them into enough second-chance points (7) to keep the Knicks at arm's length and 3-1 in best-of-five with a 109-101 win Won to take the lead. Off-seven series.

The Heat are now just one win away from their third Eastern Conference Finals berth in the last four years, not a result many predicted coming off a regular season that saw them win a modest 44 games. . 25th rank crime and a negative point difference, To hear Spoelstra tell it, though, he spent between injuries and inconsistent play struggling and finding answers — six months in which a title hopeful became the eighth seed, before exiting and making his first appearance in a play-in tournament. Game lost. It's the second – prepared them to hit their stride when it mattered most.

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“I think we found value in the grind of the regular season. … I've said it over and over again: We found a beauty in that struggle,” Spoelstra Said, “But without that struggle, [if] We didn't have to find different solutions to win, and different guys stepping up to give them the confidence to have moments like this – if we didn't have the regular season, you'd have to be able to do that. has zero chance in the playoffs. Nothing was easy about this regular season, and nothing was easy about this post season. But if you can hold onto that, it can make you collectively stronger.”

This has made the Heat the kind of team that can lose Tyler Herro to a broken right arm and Victor Oladipo to a torn patellar tendon and just keep going – rolling 10 deep into the second round of the playoffs, Cody picks Expecting good minutes from Zeller, Haywood Highsmith and long-fallen Duncan Robinson and actually getting them. (Spoelstra rested both Butler and Bam Adebayo to start the second quarter, rolling in with an all-reserve lineup; Miami increases its lead With the stars on the bench.) The type who can walk into a white-hot garden, dictate terms of engagement, lose Butler to a bad ankle sprain in the middle of the fourth quarter…and then also steals the benefit of the home-court.

The type who, when necessary, can shape-shift into a zone-defense-and-high-volume-3s team at the drop of a hat and steal almost Second playing on the street. It could look to short-circuit its offensive and still win on the back of its best defensive performance of the season. And that could put the Knicks on the brink by hoisting them with their own petard, subjecting the visitors to the same fate that New York visited Cleveland: a disheartening defeat at the hands of a more physical, more balanced and more professional opponent. .

“Maybe they want more of it,” Said Knicks forward Julius Randle, who bounced back from a 4-for-15 outing in Game 3 with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting but went scoreless before fouling out with just over minutes left in the fourth quarter. “I don't know. We've been like that all year, and we've got to find a way to push forward and make those plays if we want to survive this season.”

That should have been the craziest part inside the visiting locker room — that the Knicks did enough good things to put themselves in position, but were never able to claw their way out of the hump.

After watching his offense crater to 86 points on 34.1% shooting in Game 3, New York coach shuffled his starting lineup. He relegated Josh Hart (shooting just 14-for-35 from the field through three games) to the bench in favor of former starter Quentin Grimes, in the hopes that the sophomore's improved and quicker-triggered 3-point shooting would reflect The reintroduction to the lineup that helped New York's season changes will open things up for playmakers Randle, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett.

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The ploy worked: New York scored a combined 63 points on 67.6% shooting in the first and third quarters, with a lineup that heavily featured frequent touches of paint and generated high-quality looks Which Miami had eliminated so effectively in the last two games. Despite scoring like gangbusters, however, that unit took a Net-zero in its 23 minutesThanks largely to his inability to stop Miami from generating additional possessions on the offensive glass (that group six left of Miami's 13 offensive rebounds) and through turnovers (accounted for nine of New York's 16 cough-ups), or by going to the foul line (the Heat committed 11 fouls and took 13 free throws against that lineup). .

Throughout the season, the possession game provided the Knicks with a margin for error that their lack of long-range shooting could not afford. Down 2–1, Thibbs and Brunson (32 points on 10-for-21 shooting, 11 assists against one turnover in 44 minutes) finally got the offense more or less unstuck; New York actually scored more points per possession at half-court on Monday than Miami, according to glass cleaning, But with no chance to tie things up, the Knicks not only lost their breadwinners and lost their own game; He put himself on the chopping block with miscue after miscue, giving a Heat team that didn't need help enough opportunities to depend on.

it's taking randall bad opening shot-clock 3 Who Rings Clear And Gets Max Struss transition triple on the other end — a 6-point swing — and passes through Outside Shooting pockets that replace clean catch-and-shoot looks in delayed contest attempts. This particular six missed free throws in an 8-point loss people that immediately before one and – 1 bucket At the other end – 5-point swing. it's voluntarily setting the screen that Keeps Your Best Perimeter Guard on Your No. 1 Playmakerresulting in a miss that turns into a infection 3 Another way – another 5-point swing.

it is rebounds not you squeezeempty trips that turn a one- or two-possession game into a 10-point deficit, Emotional Close and the loss of focus off-ball that allows shooters to go free – death by a thousand cuts. And those cuts turn into setbacks against an opponent capable of exploiting them.

With Brunson working on a worn ankle and learning to shoulder the bulk of the shot-creation burden, the Heat forced him to work overtime everywhere: Gabe Vincent put full-court pressure on him, which Also guarding the Miami wing (often Strauss or Robinson) ran them. Around the off screen and dribble-handoff etc., knowing New York but Butler didn't want to carve them one by one, the Heat waited for the Knicks to send offensive help and beat them by the pass; Butler finished with 10 assists, most of them coming after accepting a double and making a play out of it.

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“I really like being double-teamed, because it means one of my partners is open,” Said Butler, who scored a team-high 27 points on 9-for-17 shooting with 6 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals in 42 stellar minutes. “If I don't find them, someone's going to find them … and I get to see if I can score on a double-team.”

Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat blocks a shot attempt by RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 8, 2023 in Miami. (Photo by Eric Espada / Getty Images)

Butler can do that, and anything else Spoelstra might need during the course of the game; Balky ankles or not, he's capable of being the best player in any sport. out of the offending glass And then pivoting to averaging 20 points and 12.5 boards of his own on 55% shooting in the two wins, all while limiting Randle and also guarding every other player in a similar uniform at one point or another.

Spoelstra is a masterful tactician, forever making sure the Heat will pick any low-hanging fruit available to them and they'll lead the adjustment – like Shuffling the Defensive Matchup in Game 3 to put Butler on Barrett and Vincent on Brunson—rather than needing to be reactive and dictate terms of engagement. He also has the pieces to move around the board: For everything Herro provides as a pick-and-roll playmaker, his absence means Spoelstra can roll with a rotation that has no big potential. Haven't been a defensive liability – even literal greybeard Kevin is giving well. effort when tasked with showing up and recovering on high screens before retreating to clear the defensive boards — and pretty much everyone besides Adebayo and Zeller is a legitimate threat to shoot from the perimeter, even if he still Stand or move away.

The struggle took Beauty 82 games, but Spoelstra found himself a 16-game roster: a tough, tenacious and versatile group that nail details, It is unlikely to defeat itself, and it can win in many different ways. including, as evidence on Monday, the way You love to win

“We've got a job to do,” Butler Said after the game. “And I think we're capable of a lot.”