5 things the Miami Heat need to do to beat the Knicks and advance to the Eastern Conference finals

May 8, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) reacts after scoring against the New York Knicks in the first quarter during game four of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
May 8, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) reacts after scoring against the New York Knicks in the first quarter during game four of the 2023 NBA playoffs at Kaseya Center. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports /

When you’re on the verge of being eliminated, there’s no time for second-guessing. With the season on the line, the New York Knicks came out with a vengeance and home-court advantage.

In the best-of-seven series of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Miami Heat had three opportunities to eliminate the Knicks after building a 3-1 lead. Sadly, they were unable to close it out on the first attempt, falling 112-103 in Game 5 on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The positive news for the Heat is that they are still the frontrunner in the series. Leading 3-2, the team has a second chance to close it out when they return home tonight for Game 6 of the playoffs at the Kaseya Center in Miami at 7:30 p.m. ET.

There are a few things the Heat need to improve on to end this series and advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four seasons.

The Stakes

If the Heat win, they’ll earn a few days rest as they await the results of Celtics-Sixers, who play their Game 7 on Sunday. If they lose, the momentum would shift to Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Monday.

"“They did their job,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said, emphasizing the importance of Friday’s game. “They protected home court, and we’ve got to respond on Friday.”"

It’s said that statistically the teams who lead in these playoff series have won by 83.9% (281-54). Home teams have won a series that went to seven games 75.9% of the time (110-35). Looks like, the odds are in the Heat’s favor, and is a must-win for the Knicks.

Here are five things the Miami Heat need to do to win Game 6 tonight at home, and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

1. Improve 3-Point Shooting

The Heat finished the regular season with the fourth-worst 3-point shooting percentage (34%). They went from being first in the NBA to one of the league’s worst outside-shooting teams.

However, the Heat’s outstanding 3-point shooting was a huge reason for their dominance against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. They shot 45% from 3-point range, making them one of only five teams in NBA history to shoot 40% or better on at least 150 attempts in a playoff series. But, after a very efficient performance in the first round, the Heat’s perimeter shooting has declined again.

In the first five games of this series, the Heat shot a total of 202 3-pointers and only made 63. In Game 5, the team went 13-for-43, shooting 30.2% from downtown. In total, 36 of those 43 3-pointers were classified as open looks. This was a big contributing factor to their loss to the Knicks Wednesday night.

While this discussion about the Heat’s poor 3-point shooting is nothing new, one thing is for certain, the regression from the first to the second round is troubling at this point.

Luckily, the Heat’s three-point specialists Max Strus (4 of 10) and Duncan Robinson (5 of 10) stepped up again majorly for the Heat. Robinson and Strus combined to shoot 9 of 20 (45%). The problem is that the rest of the roster combined for 4 of 23 shooting 17.4% from deep. Despite his defensive woes, Robinson’s performance in game 6 contributed substantially to the Heat’s ability to stay in the game.

Can’t say the same for NBA veteran Kevin Love, who went 0-for-7 from downtown as the Knicks established a 19-point lead early in the third quarter.

Duncan Robinson has proven himself when given the chance. In game 6, despite being targeted on defense, Robinson should garner playtime, as he has been able to knock down big shots when others haven’t. We need his ignitability, and exceptional ability to generate offense and space the floor for Jimmy and Bam.

While several of the Heat’s missed 3-point attempts on Wednesday were open looks, they didn’t play well offensively. This is something that needs to change ahead of tonight’s game 6 in Miami.

"Following Game 5 when asked about the three-point looks generated in the loss, Miami Heat Head Coach Erik Spoelstra said, “Would that have changed things if we had knocked down a few of those open looks? It potentially could have, but you got to find a way to win even if you’re not knocking down wide-open threes. I do like that we were generating open ones. That’s tough to do in the playoffs. But you got to find a different way to win.”"

"When asked about Wednesday’s three-point shooting performance, Lowry said, “We missed a lot of shots tonight, and I think they were shots we think we can make, we know we can make and we will make. We just got to watch the film and see where we can get better. But just keep shooting with confidence.”"

2. Stay Out of Foul Trouble

While the Heat won on turnovers and offensive rebounds, they were defeated in the paint by the Knicks (21-12). The Knicks also had a significant lead in free throw attempts, with 40, their most in any game this season and more than twice as many as the Heat (19). To overcome a sloppy 19-turnover performance, the Knicks outscored the Heat 29-16 at the foul line.

Some of the other fouls were intentional, especially on Mitchell Robinson, who isn’t a great free-throw shooter. He had some of the worst misses, both in Game 4 and Game 5. With the Heat trying to get over the hump in the fourth quarter, they went into a fouling frenzy in an attempt to send players like Robinson to the line before the Knicks could keep capitalizing on their offense. But, it didn’t work in their favor.

The Heat ​​couldn’t defend the Knicks without fouling. They fouled way too much in this game, causing seven players to commit at least three fouls each landing the team in foul trouble. Jalen Brunson was 10-of-12 from the foul line.

"“He has a great competitive will,” Spoelstra said of Brunson. “He’s going to continue to attack, he’s going to try to manipulate the defense. He’s aggressive, he’s physical, but he also knows how to draw fouls. He’s clever, so he has that combination.”"

In game 6, the Heat need to be a little more deliberate and smart with their defense, and how and who they foul. They also need to get to the free-throw line a lot more, as the discrepancy of foul shots between the two teams in game 5 was by 13.

3. Defense

The Heat must find a method to slow down Jalen Brunson. He was the standout of Game 5, scoring 38 points on 12-of-22 shooting from the field, 4-of-10 from three-point range, and 10-of-12 from the foul line.

Brunson has been a sharpshooter scoring 70 points in the last two games on 22-of-43 (51.2%) from downtown. From the foul line, he’s 20-of-23.

(Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports)
(Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports) /

After not playing zone defense in the first half, the Miami Heat switched to it in the second half to try to slow down the Knicks’ attack. While the Heat cut the Knicks’ 19-point advantage late in the fourth quarter, there wasn’t much Miami could do to slow Brunson down.

The Heat must find a way to stop Brunson from finding soft spots in their defense.

"When asked a few questions about how the Heat have been defending Jalen Brunson, Guard, Gabe Vincent said, “It’s a full-team effort.”"

4. Rebounding

The Knicks ended up having more offensive rebounds than the Heat in Game 5. This ​​factor of efficiency needs to improve. To do so effectively, Bam Adebayo and Cody Zeller need to be more aggressive, rebounding, and protecting the paint on both sides of the court.

5. Players Need to Step Up

In game 6, every player has to step up in their respective roles. This includes star players Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.

After spraining his right ankle in the series opener and missing Game 2 of the second round, Heat star Jimmy Butler was not his typical dominant self we are used to seeing during this playoff run. On Wednesday night, Butler still was successful, as he finished with 19 points on 5-of-12 shooting from the field. Center, Bam Adebayo finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.

Miami Heat
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

While players have off-nights, this postseason, Miami has counted on Butler to play a larger scoring role, and Adebayo to play a larger defensive role. In this year’s playoffs, Butler is averaging 31.9 points per game on 55.1% shooting. Game 5 was Butler’s lowest-scoring game.

"After Wednesday’s game, while brushing off a question about his lowest-scoring game of the playoffs, Butler said, “I was making all the right plays. I’m not a scorer anyway.“ So I don’t know how many I had. Nineteen or something like that, that’s enough for us to win. If we make a couple more shots, I don’t think that question is asked the exact same way. It doesn’t matter if I score 40 or 50, 19 or nine. We always have enough to win. If I score 10 points next game and we win, that won’t be an issue and that won’t be a question and I will continue to play the right way.”"

The bottom line is, effort and teamwork in all 48 minutes is what it’s going to take for the Heat to win Game 6, and eliminate the Knicks.

But, the main goal tonight is simple: focus on the task ahead, and win at home.

“Protect home,” Adebayo told reporters Friday morning. “That’s the biggest thing for us, protecting home.”