NBA Playoffs: Knicks’ composure, Jalen Brunson’s superstar performance shines through in moment of greatest need

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YORK – Maybe Tom Thibodeau should have issued a spoiler alert.

Speaking to reporters at Madison Square Garden before Game 5 of the do-or-die Game 5, the Knicks head coach described his team's second-round matchup with the Heat as “a hard-fought series.” [in which] Points are hard to come by.” That trend certainly continued into Wednesday's early first quarter, which felt like a continuation of Game 4 for all the world.

Part of the game was physical and nasty, as exemplified by Bam Adebayo. Watch Julius Randle was hit in the eye while fighting for a rebound on Miami's second possession, trapping the Knicks All-Star cornerback and requiring a New York timeout with less than a minute left in the game. The brutal reinstatement of the amenities left Randall with a large size shiner, He said after the game that he “couldn't really see anything” for a while.

“It's the cost of war, I guess,” Randall said.

Luckily for Knicks fans, though, “points are hard to get” wasn't the only spoiler Thibes laid out before the game.

“Usually, it's intangible,” he said. “In the first two games, we rebounded the ball very well; The last two, we haven't. So, you know, see what happens. What sets you apart? Often, it's a hustle game — one turnover, one offensive rebound — and that's the difference.

At that point, it just needed to find that difference — that hustling , that rebound, that change of possession that made the shot — that could revive both the home team and the home crowd that the Heat and the conditions had hydraulic-pressed — Squeezed out of any juice. The Knicks found it – and began the process of separating themselves and saving their season – by trying harder, jumping higher, running faster and generally heaping on the effort, force and will:

An 18–2 run by New York in the first three minutes of the second quarter did not end Game 5 by any stretch; In fact, Miami answered it with a 9–0 run of their own to retake the lead midway through the frame. Although it still matters.

After a disappointing end to Game 4, which had Randle, who was named to the All-NBA third team just before tipoff but still very much a trick-or-treat postseason performer, wondering if the Heat were just ” wants more of it,” spirited play mix-and-match New York lineup featuring stalwart starters (Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes) and energetic reserves (Obi Toppin, Isaiah Hartenstein) brought the Knicks back into the fight . Brunson attacking Duncan Robinson – one of the only weak defensive links in the Miami rotation – got the Heat on their heels in pick-and-rolls, creating opportunities for in-swing ball movement that looked good. In exchange, the point guard was slotted into an offensive slot in which he would be locked in all night:

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No matter what Miami threw at Brunson – drop coverage, high hedges, blitzes, late switches, you name it – he handled it with patience, poise and a steady diet of buckets, going 12-for – Putting up 38 points on 22 shooting in 48 minutes with 9 rebounds, 7 assists and only 1 turnover.

Yep, that's right: With the Knicks' season opener, Brunson went the distance.

“What can you say about the boy?” Thibodeau said after the game. “He's just incredible. You know, all-around player. Great leader. Great toughness — mental toughness, physical toughness. Ability to think on your feet. Ability to lead. Ability to connect with people, bring the best out of people. ability. That's what makes him special, and it's play after play.

Brunson just became 4th nick ever Joined Bernard King, Ewing and Carmelo Anthony to score 30 or more in a playoff series three times. Chasing Miami movement shooters like Robinson and Max Strauss, and knowing that any misstep or cold snap could mean the end of New York's season, he did so by starting nearly every offensive possession. It was a difficult task. He was equal to it.

Thibodeau said, “I've never seen anybody act like that, and he does it in front of everybody.” “He does it in our gym. Does it all summer long. He does it at the pace of the game. The way he prepares himself, he never has to adjust to the game. Prepares to play minutes. Just a tremendous leader.

Three Heat defenders weren't enough to stop Jalen Brunson on Wednesday night. (Photo by Elsa / Getty Images)

During that second-quarter stretch, Toppin led the way, sparking a collective effort on the glass — he had five rebounds in the quarter, four of them on the defensive end — to keep Miami away from expansion possessions. . Crucially, it allowed the Knicks to try to find some easy early in a series where — say it with me, Thibs — points have been hard to come by. And Taupin running the floor on one of those push-a-miss possessions, combined with Brunson actually running and lobbing it, gave the MSG faithful the first reason for the evening to groan instead. given a chance to get out.

Taken together, it turned out to be a game that seemed to fait accompli In more than a 50/50 ball – one that anyone could catch, if they were just willing to dive for the friggin' thing. On Wednesday, the Knicks were interested; In a related story, their season is not over after the 112–103 win as the Heat lead the series 3–2.

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“OB came in and gave us some energy,” said Barrett, who continued his strong offensive play in this series with 26 points on 8-for-17 shooting, including 3-for-3 from 3-point range. Shooting 7-for-8 at the -8 mark and the free-throw line. “He's rebounding, running on the floor, and then we're able to get some transition buckets, so that helped us a lot. And then we were just moving the ball and playing all together, so, you know, it was huge.

Not the least of which is because, as Randle pointed out, seeing the surge in the second quarter off the bench helped get him going.

“Seeing the boys go out there and compete gives me energy,” he said. “I started feeling a little better after that.”

Started playing well too. After a sluggish 1-for-7 start, Randle made his presence felt, drawing three fouls to get himself over the line and hitting a step-back 3-pointer at Adebayo's mug to give the Knicks a 50–47 lead at halftime. Gave an edge. He then played a spectacular third quarter, finishing with timely shots, and smart drive-and-kick playmaking, which helped spark a 23–5 run that put New York up by 19 points through the third.

“I liked the way he attacked the basket,” Thibodeau said of Randle, who went on 7-for-13 shooting (including a postseason-high 4 triples), 5 rebounds and 5 assists in 36 minutes. Will end up with 24 digits.” “I thought he had great balance tonight, he read well.”

Grimes also played a balanced game: 24 minutes in the first half, and 24 more in the second, joining Brunson in double shifts without a breather.

(This, Thibodeau swears, was not the plan; he Meaning in relief of Brunson and Grimes early in the second quarter. But he “knew we couldn't do that” when Josh Hart committed three fouls in only five first-quarter minutes, with Barrett also making a pair of starts. “If we win, I'm fine with it,” Brunson said.)

After starting this series and logging just 10 minutes off the bench coming off a shoulder injury in Round 1 against Cleveland, Grimes has become indispensable to Thibodeau. He's New York's Best Floor-Spacing Catch-and-Shoot Wing And It's the best defensive option on Miami threat Butler, whom he helped limit to a season-low 19 points on 5-for-12 shooting.

“He probably — probably has been one of the Best player ever in the playoffs,” Grimes said. “So just knowing that I'm going to have that matchup every night, you have to be a little more disciplined. if i want to play 48 [minutes] or 25, doesn't really matter to me. I just have to make sure I lock onto him defensively, and try to do whatever I can to slow him down.

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The slowing down of Butler and the Heat attack begins with New York's own offense, which looked a little higher than itself in Game 5.

The Knicks came back on Wednesday to create second-chance opportunities, rebounding nearly 39% of their misses — including more than 48% at half-court. glass cleaning — Mitchell Robinson and Hartenstein combine for nine with centers. He also powered Miami off the bounce, repeatedly forcing the issue, making contact and taking himself to the charity stripe for 40 free throws—more than twice as many as Miami.

“They took away our aggression because we kept getting fouls. And it's on us, it's not really on them,” Butler said. “You just have to do better — staying in front of the ball, not reaching as much, fighting shots, all the little things. We can easily fix this. We Desire Correct that. We have to get it right if we want to win.”

Even with Brunson turning in a superstar performance, Randle and Barrett offering complementary scoring and playmaking, and the return of New York's offensive rebounding machine, the Heat were still right there — blowing the Knicks' 19-point lead down 2 with just under three minutes to go behind a hail of Duncan Robinson 3-pointers. Cashing in a couple of the neat looks they made in Game 5—Kevin Love and Gabe Vincent going a combined 0-for-10 to go deep, regression meant they crashed all at once in the red— Done after hot shooting. series – and maybe the Heat are already in the finals.

“Oh yeah,” said a smiling Butler when asked if he was pleased with Miami's shots in Game 5. “Every time. We're going to continue to take those shots. We're going to make those shots.

And, after playing a full second half in Game 5, if he needs to go back to bell-to-bell in Miami on Friday with Brunson, Grimes and whoever Thibodeau decides, Butler insisted he would do so. ready to do.

Butler said, “If Spoe asks me to play 48 minutes, I'll be suited up and booted and ready to do that.” “And we will win.”