After the Knicks won Game 5 over the Heat at Madison Square Garden, all anybody would talk about was Jalen Brunson scoring 38 points and playing all 48 minutes. While Brunson was electric for New York, the player sitting to his left during the post-game press conference had just completed arguably as important a game for the Knicks.
Quentin Grimes, the erstwhile starting shooting guard for the Knicks, missed the final two games of the Cavaliers series with a shoulder injury. When the Heat series started, he was only able to play 10 minutes in the first game and was replaced in the starting lineup by Josh Hart. Despite being healthy, he was used off of the bench in Game 2 as well.
On Wednesday night, he played all 48 minutes and spent the entire game guarding Heat star Jimmy Butler, holding him to 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting, easily Butler’s worst effort of the series.
“The things he brings to the game, a lot of it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet,” explained Brunson after the game, “but he’s willing to do whatever it takes [to win].”
Two crucial possessions in the fourth quarter are the perfect evidence of that.
With the Knicks up 107-101 with just under two minutes to play, Grimes got plastered on a screen by Bam Adebayo, knocking him onto the hardwood. When Grimes got up, he was hobbling on his right knee but recovered in time to stonewall a drive from Butler and then poke the ball away with 1:36 to go in the game.
Quentin Grimes with one of the most unbelievable efforts you’ll ever see. pic.twitter.com/dQBinsGBnj
— KnicksMuse (@KnicksMuse) May 11, 2023
“It’s the playoffs,” said Grimes after the game. “You gotta do whatever you can to win. It’s what you live for. It’s what you watch as a kid. I was hurt a little bit, but it’s not gonna stop me”
A few plays later, with just 38 seconds left and the Knicks clinging to the same six-point lead, Grimes battled Butler for an offensive rebound, fighting the Heat star to the floor to get a jump ball.
“You need those hustle plays,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau. “[Quentin’s] gonna give maximum effort on every play, and we need our whole team to do that.”
That effort was indicative of the physicality and heart that Grimes gave the Knicks all night long, playing alongside Brunson for every single minute because that’s what his team needed from him.
“I don’t know how they do that,” Mitchell Robinson said of Brunson and Grimes after the game. “That is unbelievable. 48 minutes guarding some crafty players, that is kind of wild. It’s crazy.”
While Brunson put up the splashy offensive production in his 48 minutes, and deserves every ounce of credit for carrying the Knicks offense at times, Grimes’ role in guarding Butler was arguably as important.
Even with last night’s effort, Butler still ranks third amongst all players in this year’s playoffs with 31.9 points per game. He’s shooting 55.1% from the floor and 39.4% from beyond the arc. Last night, Grimes held him to 41.7% from the field, and Butler didn’t get a single look from three.
“[Quentin] is a two-way player,” said Thibodeau. “He’s a hustle player. Jimmy’s gonna make you work, and you’ve gotta make him work and I think [Quentin] did as good a job as you can do.”
“I mean he has probably been the best player in the playoffs so far,” Grimes added. “If I have to play forty-eight or twenty-five whatever it is, I’m going to make sure I’m locked in on him defensively and try to do whatever I can to slow him down.”
In fact, Grimes has been the primary defender on Butler for a total of 94 possessions in this series. In those possessions, Butler is just 5-of-17 (29.4%) from the floor and 0-of-3 from downtown. Grimes was also the primary defender on Donovan Mitchell for 77 possessions in the first round. In those possessions, Mitchell was just 3-of-11 (27.3%) from the floor and 1-of-6 from downtown.
Game 5 also showed exactly how important Grimes is on offense, even if he only added eight points of his own. The shooting guard shot 38.6% from three this year and is a career 38.4% three-point shooter, so even if he hasn’t shot the ball well in the playoffs, his presence on the court changes the way Heat coach Erik Spoelstra defended.
Max Strus, who guarded Grimes for much of the game, was unable to sag off of Grimes to help stop penetration from Brunson. With Strus hedging towards Grimes on the perimeter, the paint was more open for Brunson on Wednesday, directly leading to a handful of easy lay-ups he wasn’t getting earlier in the series.
When defenders like Kyle Lowry did help off of Grimes to try and stop Brunson, Grimes was happy to knock down open threes.
Love that start to the 2Q. Here's the value of Grimes — you can't help off on the strong side like Kyle Lowry does here stunting at Brunson. Grimes too good a shooter w/ too quick + high a release. pic.twitter.com/3CB9Hg6z00
— Tom Piccolo (@Tom_Piccolo) May 11, 2023
That’s one of the main reasons why the Knicks had the 6th-best record in the NBA after Grimes was inserted into the starting lineup, posting the third-best offensive rating in the league and the 6th-best net rating. In fact, the starting lineup of Grimes, Brunson, Robinson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle played 526 minutes together during the regular season and had a plus/minus of +72.
“I’m a rhythm player definitely,” admitted Grimes. “Seeing the ball go through the hoop, it definitely is a good feeling. Locking in definitely, getting rebounds, whatever you can to find a rhythm.”
Now that Grimes has found a rhythm, and hopefully his spot back at the starting shooting guard, perhaps the Knicks can become just the 14th team in NBA history to come back from trailing 3-1 in the playoffs.
“Nothing but respect for him,” said Brunson of Grimes. “He needs to rest up so we can do it again.”