Roundtable: Will the Heat finish off the Knicks?
The Miami Heat have a chance to beat the New York Knicks and advance to the Eastern Conference finals in tonight’s Game 5 at Madison Square Garden. The All U Can Heat team got together to answer five burning questions ahead of the game. Below, our writers discuss what has impressed them about this Heat run, their expectations for the game, and log their predictions.
What has impressed you most about how the Heat have taken this 3-1 lead over the Knicks?
Azam Masood: That they’ve made the Knicks offense look so inept through these four games. The Knicks were third in offensive rating in the regular season off of the strength of their offensive rebounding and getting nearly 50 points per game nightly from Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson. They’ve largely managed to neutralize two of those three elements and while Brunson is managing to get his, Miami has not made it easy for him at all.
António Dias: It’s the rebounding for me. The Knicks were absolutely dominant on the boards in the regular season and in the first round, ranking in the top two in both instances in rebound percentage and offensive rebound percentage. Yet, Miami – a below-average team in that regard all season — has matched the Knicks’ rebounding numbers, losing by only 0.2 percentage points in rebounding percentage. A full-team job.
Wes Goldberg: After shooting 45% from 3-point range in the first round, the Heat were going to regress to the mean at some point. Well, they have (31.4% in this series), but you’d be excused for not noticing because the Heat are winning in other ways. They are setting the tone against the Knicks, check-mating their physicality and winning the possession battle. Jimmy Butler hasn’t been Michael Jordan reincarnated either. The Heat are up 3-1 by playing what Max Strus called their “best basketball of the season” as a team.
What do the Heat need to keep doing, or do again, in order to close out this series tonight?
Azam: They need to demoralize the Knicks and the Madison Square Garden crowd early in Game 5. The Knicks threw what felt like their best counterpunch in Game 4 and were still unable to get over the hump despite keeping things competitive for the majority of the game. Bam Adebayo needs to continue to dominate the glass and stifle Julius Randle in 1-on-1 situations while Jimmy Butler needs to look to attack the rim early to get Mitchell Robinson in foul trouble and put up early points to let the Knicks know what time it is. With Josh Hart benched, he should have an even easier time with the relatively green Quentin Grimes on the floor. The opposing crowds’ fear of Butler when he gets going is palpable, and for good reason. Comments from Randle and Robinson after Game 4 also had an air of defeat to them, and who better to crush what’s left of your spirit than Butler?
António: Keep taking the ball away from Brunson’s hands and force the Knicks into isolations and kick outs. The Knicks have shot pretty poorly from outside, so keep packing the paint and make them beat you with shots they don’t want to take. On offense, the Heat probably won’t be able to win on the road shooting as poorly as they did in the last game, inside and outside. Get Butler going early and be ready to attack as the Knicks scramble off double and triple teams on Jimmy. More Lowry and Vincent minutes together, to have your best floor organizer and best point-of-attack defender on the floor together as much as possible.
Wes: My colleagues nailed it by asking Butler to attack early. The Knicks are on the ropes. They’re desperate. Send your best assassin in for the kill. Besides that, focus on plays that can crush New York’s spirit like offensive rebounds, steals and drawing charges.
How can the Knicks win this game and send the series back to Miami?
Azam: The best way for the Knicks to extend this series would be if they have an outlier game from beyond the arc coupled with winning the offensive rebounding battle. The Heat and Erik Spoelstra have been daring RJ Barrett to beat them as a scorer and shooter and, credit to him, he’s actually risen to the task and punished Miami thus far. Despite that, I don’t expect Spo to deviate from his defensive strategy much. No other Knick has been consistently hot from 3 (though Quentin Grimes did sink 3 of 7 in Game 4 as a starter; his quicker release is noticeable). Randle’s shooting drop-off in postseasons is verifiably real, and Josh Hart is a modern-day PJ Tucker, capable of hitting open spot-ups from the corners, but extremely limited and hesitant to shoot more difficult jumpers. And while the Heat bench has outperformed the Knicks bench by a good deal, it’s been noticeable that Isaiah Hartenstein has largely gotten the better of Cody Zeller on the inside in their minutes facing off against one another, even as the counting statistics are modest.
António: By having their three best players all produce consistently throughout the game. The Heat have been able to always keep one or two of Brunson/Barrett/Randle in check in large parts of games, forcing them to do things they are not used to and if the Knicks want to fight to live another day, they need the three of them to bring their A-game. Also, the bench production will be huge for New York. The Heat have a plus-minus of plus-15 when Butler seats in the last two games, with a lineup consisting of Lowry, Robinson, Martin, Highsmith and Zeller/Bam. The Knicks are dropping points when Miami’s best player goes to the bench, allowing him to rest more and the Heat to increase leads and, for the Knicks, that can’t happen. Interesting to see if Quickley returns, as his offense off the bench is much-needed. To finish off, the Knicks simply have to hit their outside shots. There’s a 7% drop-off in their outside shooting percentage, compared to the regular season. They are at 28.2% in this series, exactly the same as the previous round but putting up six more shots per game. They can’t keep trading shots with the Heat.
Wes: They need to mix it up. The Knicks have had roughly the same gameplan for every game this series, with coach Tom Thibodeau only loosening and tightening a screw here and there. It feels like they need to do something more extreme. I’m interested to see if the Knicks go small. They experimented a bit with Randle and Obi Toppin in garbage time this series. Might they let that lineup loose in an attempt to unclutter the paint? If they do shift things toward playing smaller lineups, could we get a Derrick Rose or Evan Fournier appearance?
Besides Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, who are you looking at to step up?
Azam: I’m looking to see Max Strus muster one more big game. He’s been able to get 3-point shots in rhythm and he’s been making sound decisions on offense, whether it’s been to let it fly or to pump and go to the rim. The Heat haven’t shot particularly well in this series, but Strus has been a source of relief 3s every time momentum appears to be shifting to the Knicks. He’s also, for the second postseason in a row, really elevated his defense. It would also be nice if his backup, Duncan Robinson, snaps out of his funk (5-for-25 from 3 this series). He’s been indecisive all series, but if he can just hit a few shots, it would further confound and dishearten the Knicks and their home crowd.
António: We’re due for a Duncan Robinson game and I think we’ll finally get that. Even if he’s not shooting it well, his presence alone opens up space for Butler and Bam to work with, but it would be nice to see the ball go in when he shoots it. Other than that, Game 5 should be a grind-out game, where experience plays a big part in staying focused, so I’m expecting Kevin Love to “take us there”. His veteran leadership, full-court passes and timely baskets have been key and I think his experience in close-out games will play a big part.
Wes: I’ve been waiting for the Strus/Duncan eruption. It hasn’t exactly happened (although Strus has had some bubbling moments). The most reliable Heat reserve has been Kyle Lowry. His table setting for a suddenly-sturdy second unit and rugged defense has been important – the “intangibles” that have grabbed headlines – but let’s not forget about the raw production. He’s rediscovered his mid-range jumper and allocated a few timely pull-up 3s, and he’s getting to the foul line. When he chips in 12-15 points off the bench, it transforms the Heat’s offense.
Azam: I keep waiting for the regular season Heat to resurface, to build a good deal of momentum and goodwill before frittering it all away with lousy shooting and worse effort. But I think they’ve been so hungry to return to the Eastern Conference finals after their heartbreak last year, that they come out focused and get the job done. As the kids say these days, #HeatIn5
António: It’s always Heat in five, so I won’t stray away from that. I expect the Knicks to come out hot, so the Heat need to weather the storm and not get too far behind, a bit like Game 5 in Milwaukee. Then, use their experience in the clutch to get the best of a desperate and nervous team on the brink of elimination.
Wes: Before the series, I felt like these teams were evenly matched. The Heat had the best player, but the Knicks had the depth. That depth, at least through the first four games, has been vaporized. Quickley’s injury hasn’t helped. But the Heat still had their dude. We saw this movie a round ago: A team on the ropes, scrambling for answers, can’t find them in time. The Heat will be motivated to create some time off before the conference finals. Heat in five.