The New York Knicks’ season is over after a 96-92 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Jalen Brunson was everything for the Knicks for the second straight game, scoring 41 points on 14-of-22 from the field with four rebounds and three assists.
Unfortunately, what most people will remember is that, with the Knicks down 92-90 with just 20 seconds left in the game, Brunson picked up his dribble in a double team and threw an ill-advised pass into the paint, which Miami stole. That led to a foul and two Miami free throws that helped to seal the win.
Even with that mistake, Brunson was really the only reason New York was in the game. No other Knicks player was able to get much of anything going as New York players not named Jalen Brunson shot 13-of-49 from the field and just 5-of-25 from beyond the arc.
RJ Barrett finished the game 1-of-10 from the field and the Knicks’ All-NBA forward Julius Randle was just 3-of-14 shooting and seemed to be mentally somewhere else for much of the game.
While the rest of the Knicks players were flying all over the floor and fighting for every possession, Randle was standing on the perimeter. He finished with just 15 points and 11 rebounds with three turnovers, finishing off what was a truly disappointing postseason for the veteran.
Yet, the game actually started off as well as New York could have hoped for.
The Knicks took a 14-point lead with 2:40 remaining in the first quarter thanks to 15 points from Jalen Brunson and eight from RJ Barrett, who was 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the quarter. New York would finish the first quarter with 31 points. They ended the game with 92.
Even though New York built that early lead, Miami went on a 20-5 run to take a 37-36 lead thanks to stellar play from Bam Adebayo, who finished with 23 points, nine rebounds, and two steals.
Yet, while the Heat offense got going early in that second quarter, the Knicks lack of offense was equally to blame for the huge swing in momentum.
After playing Brunson for 48 minutes in Game 5, it was clear Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau wanted to give his point guard a rest at some point on Friday night. However, he decided to take Brunson out of the game at the same time Randle and Quentin Grimes were also out of the game. That left New York without a lineup of Barrett, Josh Hart, Miles McBride, Obi Toppin, and Isaiah Hartenstein. Miami went into a zone defense, and with the Knicks not having any natural scorer on the floor, their offense went ice-cold.
It was a major miscalculation from Thibodeau and one that allowed the Heat to get back into the game quickly.
Thibodeau later decided to play the majority of the fourth quarter with Hart over Grimes, despite the fact that the Knicks starting lineup with Grimes at shooting guard has been their best lineup in plus/minus. Grimes continued to play strong defense on Butler, helping hold him to just 7-of-22 from the field, and was a +3 for the game, while Hart was a -4 and doesn’t provide near the shooting that Grimes does.
Yet another major misstep was the decision by Thibodeau to send consistent double teams at Butler. The Heat responded by using stellar ball movement to break the double teams without issue and take advantage of the Knicks’ poor closeouts. New York defenders were often flying passed the Heat shooters, who used pump fakes to get clear and set up open lanes to the basket.
On the other side, the Knicks’ offense often over-relied on Brunson and Randle to make things happen out of iso looks. After Brunson was able to get easy buckets early, the Heat started the second half by throwing multiple defenders at Brunson to dare the rest of the Knicks to beat them. New York responded by missing 10 of their first 11 shots in the third quarter.
New York seemed to get into its own way too often. They turned the ball over 12 times while dishing out just 13 assists, while the Heat had 25 assists to just seven turnovers.
The Knicks also struggled with momentary lapses in communication, often losing track of Miami defenders on defense or literally running into each other on rebounds, as Grimes and Hart did with the Knicks down just two late in the third quarter. Miami would corral the loose ball and Duncan Robinson hit a three to put the Heat up five.
However, even with those struggles, the Knicks kept it close deep into the fourth quarter due to the grit and determination that has epitomized this team all season. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to carry them over the finish line.
After taking some time to reflect on what was a surprising and successful season, the Knicks front office will need to determine if the core of this young squad is the one that can help them raise an NBA championship trophy in the future.
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