NEW YORK — The Miami Heat overturned a 12-point first-half deficit and outscored the New York Knicks 58-46 in the second half of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to steal a 108-101 win at Madison Square Garden.
Jimmy Butler came into the game as the leading scorer in the playoffs, averaging 37.6 points per game in the Heat’s series win over the Milwaukee Bucks. He finished with a team-high 25 points while chipping in 11 rebounds, four assists, and two steals while suffering an ankle injury late in the game.
Josh Hart started for the Knicks for Quentin Grimes and guarded Butler for much of the game, keeping the Miami star in check for the majority of the first half, while the Knicks used a 24-9 run to end the first quarter with a 32-23 lead.
The Knicks had a 12-point lead and seemed to be in control of the game, but poor shooting and a deep Heat roster eventually turned the tide.
“We didn’t close the second quarter well,” said Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau after the game. “In the third quarter, we didn’t protect the basket for the first few minutes, but we fought back to make it a one-possession game [97-94].”
Unfortunately, Miami then closed on an 11-7 run to put the game away for good.
Neither team shot particularly well from deep during the early going. The Heat hit just 7-of-23 from deep in the first half (30.4%), while the Knicks made just 3-of-16 (18.8%). However, the Heat got going 5-of-9 from three in the third quarter and finished the game 13-for-39 (33%) while the Knicks continued to miss shots and ended the game just 7-of-24 (20.4%) from beyond the arc.
“They made 13 and we made seven,” said RJ Barrett after the game. “That’s a big discrepancy to make up, especially in a playoff game.”
In the first half, when the shots weren’t falling for New York, they took to attacking the Heat in the paint, especially when Bam Adebayo was out of the game. New York averaged 52 points per game in the paint during the regular season and They had 40 at the half on Sunday and finished with 62 points in the paint.
In the second half, Miami coach Erik Spoelstra decided to leave Adebayo in for longer stretches, opting to forgo playing his smaller lineups as much as he usually does. Miami also shifted in and out of a zone, closing off the paint and daring the Knicks to make shots.
The Knicks continued to miss from deep, and when they decided to drive, they drove directly into Miami defenders, leading to turnovers and Miami fastbreak points the other way. It led to an 11-point Heat advantage in the third quarter and turned the game on its head with the wind taken out of the sails in the Garden.
Whenever New York tried to claw back in front, Miami would respond. However, it wasn’t always Butler. Miami had four players in double-figured including Gabe Vincent, who finished with 20 points, three rebounds, and five assists on 5-of-12 from beyond the arc.
RJ Barrett led the Knicks with 26 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists. He was tremendous to start the game, attacking the basket with assertiveness and keeping his head up to find his teammates on a few really nice passes. However, when Miami took away the paint, scoring became harder for Barrett who was just 1-of-5 from beyond the arc and he tried to force the issue, turning the ball over multiple times in the final minutes of the game.
Jalen Brunson also struggled in key moments for the Knicks. He finished the game with 25 points and seven assists but he was just 11-of-23 from the field for the game and 0-of-7 from beyond the arc. While Obi Toppin stepped up with 18 points and eight rebounds, the Knicks desperately missed Julius Randle as another floor-spacing option.
“It starts with me,” said Brunson after the game. “Today I was horrific. It’s very uncharacteristic by me. Yeah, this one’s on me. I gotta be better and we’ll go from there.’
The three-point shooting numbers will be crucial in this series. Miami ranked 27th in the league, shooting just 34.4% from deep; however, the Knicks were just 19th at 35.4%. If Miami is going to capitalize on their three-point opportunities more often than the Knicks, they will have a big leg up in the series.
“We can’t be discouraged,” said Brunson after the game. “Playing in the NBA, it’s all confidence. You gotta stay poised and stick together as a team. We just gotta come back hungry, be better, fix our mistakes, and then move forward from there.”
The two teams will return to the court on Tuesday night with Randle trending towards playing. However, Miami will also anxiously await an update on Butler after he rolled it late in the fourth quarter. While he did come back to play, he said after the game that it “feels like a rolled ankle” and will almost certainly be working with team trainers to try to be at 100% before tip-off on Tuesday.
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