The Miami Heat went into Madison Square Garden and beat the New York Knicks, 108-101, to take a 1-0 lead in their second-round series. Here are eight thoughts from the game…
1. All eyes will be on Jimmy Butler’s right ankle. With 5:05 left in the fourth quarter, Butler stepped on Josh Hart’s foot, turned his ankle and crumpled to the floor in obvious pain. Butler managed to shoot his free throws and remain in the game, but was clearly limited. He limped up and down the court, settled in the corners on offense and tried to stay out of the action on defense. Asked how his rolled ankle felt after the game, Butler replied, “Like a rolled ankle.” Coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t have an update when he spoke with the media. Game 2 is on Tuesday night.
2. There are definitely things to analyze from this game, but the main reason the Heat won was because they shot 13 of 39 (33.3%) from 3-point range while the Knicks went 7 for 34 (20.6%) from distance.
3. Still, the Heat did a good job going from good shots to better shots. They assisted on 26 of their 36 makes, finding shooters in rhythm after getting the Knicks’ aggressive defense in rotation.
4. The Heat’s paint defense got off to a rough start, but got better as the game went on. Coming into this matchup, Spoelstra knew defending the paint needed to be a point of emphasis against New York’s downhill attack. So when R.J. Barrett drove past Gabe Vincent and Kevin Love with little interference to cap a 10-1 Knicks run, Spoelstra called timeout and implored his group to defend better at the point of attack. The Knicks scored 22 points in the paint in the first quarter — 40 in the first half — but were limited to 22 paint points in a second half in which the Heat out-scored the Knicks 58-46 overall.
Miami’s defense went from this…
5. Vincent was excellent in this game, picking up where he left off after making big shots in Game 5 against the Bucks. With Tyler Herro sidelined was a broken hand, the Heat need Vincent to be aggressive. He took eight 3-pointers in the first quarter. He was quick to pull up when given space, whether he was coming off a screen or shooting off the catch. His 16 field goal attempts were tied with Butler for most on the team. Twelve of those came from beyond the arc. Are all of Vincen’t shots quote-unquote good shots? No. But it’s almost more important that he stack up those attempts in order to keep New York’s defense honest and avoid the Knicks being able to overload Butler and Bam Adebayo even more.
6. Back to the 3-point shooting. Moderate regression has seeped in, at least for one game. After shooting 45% on 3s in the first round, the Heat shot just 33.3% in this one. But the Knicks were worse, so it didn’t matter as much. Still, it’s something to monitor. The Knicks missed a bunch of open ones. They’ll shoot better at some point. The Heat will need to make more 3s, especially if Butler is limited.
7. Kevin Love made a huge impact in this game. He was an important rebounder and floor-spacer, and diced up the Knicks’ defense on three-straight outlet passes that impressed a courtside Aaron Rodgers.
These famous Kevin Love outlet passes will be huge in this series. The Knicks don’t turn over the ball much, so this is a good way to manufacture easy points in transition.
8. The stretch the put the game away: After Butler got hurt and hit a pair of free throws, Jalen Brunson made a floater to cut the Heat’s lead to three with 4:53 remaining. Butler was laboring up and down the court, trying not to put weight on his right leg. At that point, it was going to be up to Lowry, Vincent and Adebayo to put the finishing touches on this win. Over the next minute-and-a-half, Vincent made a straight-away 3-pointer, Adebayo hit a turnaround hook shot and Lowry dropped in a fadeaway jumper to push the lead to 10. Then Lowry made the defensive play of the game, when he stripped a driving Barrett with 2 minutes left, sealing the win.
If Butler is limited at all going forward, it will be on this same group to step up for the Heat to win this series.