The Miami Heat did it! They really eliminated the first-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in five games to advance to the next round. But now what? They’ll be facing off the New York Knicks, who sent the Cleveland Cavaliers home. An entirely new round, with a different set of obstacles in the Heat’s way.
We take a look at what the Heat can expect in the next round, starting Sunday, in the Madison Square Garden.
What do the stats tell us?
The Heat lost three of the four games played against the Knicks (two of three post-deadline), but they always kept it close, with the biggest margin being a 9-point defeat in the last meeting of the season.
The Heat were able to shoot better from the perimeter, a rarity in the regular season, and got to the line more, but couldn’t contain the Knicks’ paint attacks, allowing them to shoot 63.8% from 2.
The rebounding battle was a struggle for Miami, allowing New York to go for eight offensive rebounds per game in the three post-trade deadline games, but forcing more turnovers.
In those three games, there was a clear plan from the Knicks: attack in isolation – usually one of Brunson, Barrett or Randle – and finish or kick out to a shooter, while taking advantage of any fastbreak opportunity. The plan clearly worked, with the Knicks’ offense consistently getting the best of Miami’s defense.
Statistics in the playoffs are heavily dependant on matchups, making this a hard exercise to do but the story tells us that the Heat were the best offense, while the Knicks posted the best defense. There’s a really big difference in 3-point efficiency in favor of Miami, which the Knicks compensate by attacking the offensive boards. Hard. The Heat shared more of the ball, while the Knicks played a lot more isolation.
The version of the Heat we saw against the Bucks has very little to do with what they showed in the regular season against the Knicks, so it’s hard to make a comparison, but there are some tendencies to look out for – offensive efficiency, shot distribution and rebounding battle.
The Heat’s offense clearly tops the Knicks’ offense after the first round, with New York struggling with efficiency, despite a 4-1 victory over the Cavs. The Heat spammed the pick and roll, with more than 40 possessions per game and really good efficiency. The Heat’s spot up shooters came to play, posting an incredible (and probably unsustainable) 1.36 PPP.
The Knicks, on the other hand, continued to look for isolations but the Cavs’ size forced a lot more kick outs, with shooters going for 0.87 PPP. The Knicks tried to play fast, with 20 transition possessions per game and looked for a lot more pick and rolls than against the Heat in the regular season, but New York’s ball handlers, again, struggled with efficiency.
The Knicks play faster than the Bucks and their size should pose problems for a Heat team that had problems with Milwaukee’s length in the previous series. Despite that, the Heat were able to be amazing offensively, commanded by Jimmy Butler, who calmed the offense and was consistently able to get his shot.
New York will need to up their shooting or expect the Heat’s shooters to return to regular season form to be able to keep up with Miami’s offense, but the fast pace and constant board attacks from the Knicks could also be problematic for coach Erik Spoelstra’s team.
Expect a ton of cross matchups in this series. We’ll have to wait to see if Julius Randle misses time. If he does, Toppin will start at power forward, which would offer a different dynamic to the Knicks’ offense and create a conundrum for Spoelstra: stay with the same lineup and have Bam defending more off the ball, with more switching, while Love stays with Robinson? Or put Caleb Martin in to deal with Brunson/Barrett and have Strus on Toppin and Bam with Mitchell Robinson?
Another big question with the Knicks is who the fifth starter is, with Grimes and Hart fighting for the spot. Grimes offers better floor spacing – and the Knicks need it – while Hart is a better defender to put on Butler and better rebounder, something the Heat struggle with.
Randle was a problem for the Heat in the games played during the regular season, including a 43-point game. He shot above 47% (50% from three) when guarded by Bam and 41% when Jimmy was on him, but also got a lot of advantages from the Heat’s switching scheme. Butler was a lot more physical on him and Bam will probably have to do the same as his primary defender, especially by not letting him get it going early.
Jimmy Butler should spend a lot of time on Jalen Brunson, with Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin and even Kyle Lowry also getting some run against him. Brunson shot really well against Miami (62%), able to get to his spots and play at his own pace.
RJ Barrett could be the swing player for the Knicks. He struggled against the quickness of Darius Garland and the Heat should employ the same principle of putting a smaller player on him, with Gabe Vincent getting the major bulk of minutes with him. In fact, Vincent held Barrett to 35.7% during the regular season, suffocating him with physicality.
On the other side of the floor, be prepared for a lot of Hart and Grimes on Butler. At least one of them will be on the floor at all times, with the sole purpose of stopping or forcing him into bad shots. Butler was more methodical against the Bucks, as he didn’t look for specific matchups and mismatches, but spots on the floor that he felt comfortable shooting from and we should expect that again.
Adebayo handled Robinson’s size and rim protection better than he did Isaiah Hartenstein’s physicality on offense. Bam shot above 57% when guarded by Robinson, something that should give Heat fans hope of a matchup the Heat’s center has already figured out. Early offense to beat him with speed and using Bam as an initiator to keep Robinson away from the rim should be big weapons.
Tyler Herro was exceptional all season against the Knicks, giving Barrett headaches every game. But without him, everyone else will have to step up. Probably no one more than Vincent, who was a problem for Brunson and collected a 19 and a 21-point game during the regular season.
Be prepared, Heat shooters: your shot will come. The Knicks will pack the paint when Jimmy has the ball, just like they did with Donovan Mitchell, and there will be opportunities for Miami shooters to shine. Every Knicks’ defender attention will be primarily on Jimmy, so moving without the ball and spacing the floor will be key.
The keys for the Heat
- Start strong: the Knicks won the first quarter every time but once against the Heat and allowed the Cavaliers to be up entering the second quarter only once (their only loss). The Knicks like to start fast and furious, feeding Randle inside and out and finding shooters. The Heat went 3-2 in first quarters against the Bucks and that clearly gave them a boost, especially in Games 1 and 3, to be able to secure the advantage throughout the game. The Knicks are really good when they are able to go at their pace and the Heat need to take that away from them.
- Secure the boards: no one expects the Heat to win the rebounding battle, but they have to do their best to keep the Knicks’ rebounders at bay. Miami allowed the Knicks to eight offensive rebounds per game in the season, but New York is coming from a 15-offensive rebound per game series against Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. With the inefficiency they showed, you don’t want to give them second and third opportunities at the basket.
- Slow Brunson down: Brunson makes the Knicks a completely different team in the playoffs. His patience and killer instinct were a problem for the Cavaliers’ defense and it should not be different for Miami. The Heat need to stay concentrated and force him to give up the ball or into tough outside shots to be able to slow him down.