NEW YORK — A crushing screen shot from Bam Adebayo sent Quentin Grimes falling to the floor at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. His awkward move and a banged knee left Grimes on his rear end, writhing in pain, right above the basketball with the Knicks logo at midcourt. He fumbled far from the play, only able to hobbling through to find his defensive assignment, the ever-dangerous Jimmy Butler, who had leaked down the left wing. And even with that squeaky wheel, Grimes stood his ground as the ball headed Butler's direction with 1:45 remaining in Game 5. He stopped the Heat All-Star's drive at the foul line and somehow got Butler's dribble loose, leading to a crucial stop. Helped New York end up with a 112–103 victory.
“I had a little bruise, but that wasn't going to stop me from doing whatever I could to try and disrupt the game,” Grimes said. “It's the playoffs, you have to do everything you can to win. It's what you watch as a kid.
The Knicks rose to the occasion all evening, rescuing a 3-1 deficit in the series, answering every time Miami threw a haymaker in New York's direction. The Heat slowed down the Knicks' scoring attack in the first quarter, limiting the league's third-best offense in the regular season to just 14 points as it held on to a 10-point deficit. Earlier, New York started the second frame with an 18–2 lead.
Such momentum swings, however, came only after that opening period ended. Josh Hart, the Knicks' trusted trade-deadline acquisition, was given a Flagrant 1 foul for fouling off Butler's 3-point attempt and ending his landing zone. The frustration of Hart and Jalen Brunson's furrowed brows and gaping mouths was beginning to act as Game 4 slipped away in Miami on Monday. And here, Hart tears off his white headband in disbelief, marking his third individual, stomping his way past the New York bench and disappearing through a black tunnel to enter the bowels of MSG. May it boil.
Even after the Knicks' fast start to retake the lead for the second half, Brunson could not hide his displeasure at the officials midway through the quarter. He tried to tackle Kyle Lowry in the post, but the veteran denied Brunson's downfall and said it should have been ruled a foul. Brunson returned in his ensuing jog on defense and reached a boil by the time head coach Tom Thibodeau signaled for a timeout, to the point where Julius Randle bore down on Brunson as he ran down the Knicks' bench and baseline. The officer had it, which was ready. Brunson's anger.
“Things were not going our way. We were complaining as a team,” Brunson said. “And then we decided we had to play through it. Just gotta go through everything, don't really worry about all that stuff. We just found a way to stick together and find a way to win.
“You'll be bruised and clawed,” said Knicks swingman RJ Barrett.
The same night he was named to the All-NBA third team, Randle went 1-of-7 from the field en route to 24 points in his next six attempts over the remainder of the contest. Much of his contribution came with the Knicks' 23–7 sprint that began the second half, taking a 19-point lead with 5:55 to play in the third quarter.
Thibodeau said, “We got into a hole early on, no panic.”
According to Brunson, Miami surprised New York when, midway through the fourth quarter, with the Knicks' lead reduced to 95–91, the Heat intentionally hacked Knicks center Mitchell Robinson on consecutive possessions. After Robinson got to grips about his offensive usage in various parts of this long campaign, Miami sent the free-throw shooter to the line 48.4%. Here was the creepy spotlight it wished for. And when Robinson calmly sank three of four attempts, an excited Garden crowd didn't need to stand for their ovation when Thibodeau subbed reserve center Isaiah Hartenstein was replaced. The fans were already up in arms to cheer his foul shots as if they had won the game with those diamonds.
Brunson and Grimes played a full 48 minutes each to help New York accomplish the task, and the mileage certainly showed. Not with any deteriorating performance down the stretch, but as Brunson doubled over during Barrett's late free throws, his hands were on his knees, staring at the hardwood and nothing else.
Brunson led all scorers with 38 needed points on 12 of 22 shooting from the field, along with 9 rebounds and 7 assists. After finishing fourth in the regular season in crunchtime scoring, Brunson connected from the distance and made his way to the rim to continually press the Miami Tide. His barreling drive into the paint has become a patented performance, ripping the ball through defenders' arms to make contact and hitting all corners with his shoulder to carve out the space needed to loft a floater through the irons. .
“He's just an incredible all-rounder. Great leader, more toughness. Mental toughness, physical toughness,” Thibodeau said. Ability to think on one's feet, ability to lead, ability to connect with people, ability to bring out the best in people. This is what makes him special. And it's game after game.
To provide that type of stability, or at least Brunson's power to nudge a treacherous fourth-quarter swing in the right direction, has elevated this franchise since their free agency coup nearly a year ago. A challenging – to say the least – Game 6 now awaits in South Beach on Friday. But if this win over Penn Station represents the Knicks' final outing in front of these rabid fans, in front of what the rest of the NBA ecosystem is watching, it will go down as a sweet final bite for the Big Apple. At the start of the season, New York expected a quick first round series win and a strong performance in the second round. Anything else, well, could only set the stage for the bright lights in manhattan. The Knicks have a dog as their starting point guard. And they will rest assured, discovering more All-Star talent capable of running among the postseason wolves.