After pulling off one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history, the Miami Heat went into New York and took Game 1 of their second-round series against the New York Knicks.
However, Jimmy Butler sustained an ankle injury in the process, thrusting Miami’s plan for the remainder of the series into question. Still, the Knicks are dealing with their own injuries and the Heat have stolen home-court advantage. The talent of both teams, history between the two franchises and the energy of both fanbases make this an enticing series.
Here are the Heat’s three keys to winning three more games this series and advancing to the next round.
This goes without saying, but the Heat are going to rely on Jimmy Butler to carry them in this series. Once again, “Playoff Jimmy” showed us how spectacular of a superstar he is. Against the Bucks, Butler averaged a whopping 37.6 points per game, along with 1.8 steals per game on nearly 60 percent shooting from the field. He also scored an incredible 56 points in Game 4, the most points from a player in Heat playoff history.
The most impressive part might be his efficiency from beyond the arc. Although it is considered one of his only weaknesses on the offensive end, Butler is cashing in on 44% of his 3-point attempts so far.
Butler got it done on both ends of the floor for the Heat in the first round. He had a huge impact on the game every time he stepped on the floor. He became a real problem for Milwaukee; there were often points in the games where it looked like he simply couldn’t be guarded. He made several key plays during the end of close games, including the shot to force overtime in Game 5.
Butler might not need to average 38 points for the Heat to win this series, but he will need to be the best player in this series. And he will need to outperform the Knicks stars Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle (both listed as questionable for Tuesday night’s Game 2).
Butler suffered an ankle injury towards the end of Game 1 and his status for the next game is in question. If he is unavailable to play, it would be devastating for a Heat team that is already missing key rotation players in Tyler Herro and Victor Oladipo.
The bench ultimately made the difference for the Heat in their series victory against the Bucks. After being one of the worst teams in the regular season in scoring, the Heat actually lead the postseason in points per game. They are also leading the league in 3-point percentage.
The Heat bench is a huge reason for this sudden burst in offense. Players like Duncan Robinson and Kyle Lowry have had fantastic starts to the 2023 postseason. They provided a level of depth for the Heat that allowed them to outplay one of the deepest teams in the league.
The Heat bench will need to continue to perform at a high level against the Knicks. The Knicks have plenty of depth, feature one of the best bench players in the NBA this season in Immanuel Quickley and had the league’s third-best bench by plus-minus.
In Game 1, Miami’s bench had the advantage over New York’s. Lowry had a major impact down the stretch, Caleb Martin’s defense was important and even Haywood Highsmith and Cody Zeller provided a few good minutes.
The third key to victory for the Heat will be the coaching battle between Erik Spoelstra and Tom Thibodeau. Both are two of the top coaches in the NBA. Spoelstra has proven consistently that he is a championship level coach capable of making key adjustments.
Spoelstra will be tested in this series. Thibodeau used to coach Butler in Chicago and Minnesota, and might be the best-equipped coach to game plan against Butler. Spo will need to manage a potentially-hobbled Butler effectively, deciding when to rest him, when to use him as a decoy, and when to draw up plays for him to be aggressive.
In a rivalry series, being mentally sharp will be key. There is no room for mental mistakes of hesitation from the coaches. Luckily, the Heat have one of the sharpest coaches in the NBA capable of making quick adjustments. In an evenly-matched series, sometimes it’s those little adjustments that can tip the scales.