It had the makings of a celebratory Super Bowl weekend for the New York Knicks. After an impressive win over Portland Saturday, the Knicks needed only to take care of business against a struggling Miami team to get out the broom for a two-game sweep. After all, the Heat only had eight wins on the season. And they had lost seven out of their last nine. How difficult could it be?
New York raced out to a 15-5 lead, but couldn’t sustain the momentum as Miami (9-14) managed to make the key plays down the stretch in a 109-103 win. It was the second victory in a row for Miami as they snapped a modest two-game winning streak for the (10-13) Knicks.
During the game reports surfaced that New York had traded Dennis Smith Jr. and a 2021 second round draft pick acquired from Charlotte to Detroit for point guard Derrick Rose. Rose has long been a favorite of Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who coached Rose to the 2011 NBA MVP during stops in Chicago and Minnesota.
Scorching hot shooting from Reggie Bullock ignited the Knicks as they constructed a 10 point advantage. The Heat responded with a 9-0 run to pull within 15-14. With the game tied at 18, Kendrick Nunn connected on a three-pointer to grab the advantage. Both teams then started to flash some defense to quiet the early scoring barrage. Miami led 25-23 after one.
Both teams were prolific from the three-point range in the second stanza. Led by Bullock and Julius Randle, New York went 7-for-11 from behind the arc in the quarter and shot 68.4% overall. The Heat countered by shooting 65% from the field, fueled by the perimeter shooting of Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. The Heat clung to a 60-59 lead at the break.
In the third Miami stepped up their activity on defense. Using a trapping zone the Heat held the Knicks to only 18 points. Even with their offensive ineptness, New York held a 66-63 edge with eight minutes to play. However, the Heat recovered to lead by seven and took an 82-77 lead into the fourth.
This contest would be decided in the closing minutes. Tied at 94-94 Jimmy Butler scored on a short jumper and hit two foul shots. Next, Butler drove the lane and dished to Kelly Olynyk, who finished with a slam and was fouled. He completed the old-fashioned three-point play and the Heat led 101-96. The Knicks sputtered offensively again in the final minutes and couldn’t muster up another challenge.
Bam Adebayo led the Heat with a double-double consisting of 24 points and 11 rebounds. Butler finished just shy of a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Nunn and Herro each added 16 points.
“You’ve got to give them credit and it’s not just Jimmy,” Thibodeau said. “They have Bam as well and they have great shooting around them, but you’ve got to make plays down the stretch and you’ve got to understand the fourth quarter’s different.”
Randle was again terrific for the Knicks with 26 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Bullock made seven three-pointers and scored 21 points. Alec Burks was the only other New York player to reach double figures with 13 off the bench.
One noticable absence for the Knicks in the fourth quarter was RJ Barrett, who only scored three points on the afternoon. None in the first half. He was benched by Thibodeau after a defensive mistake in the second half. He played very little in the third and didn’t see the floor in the fourth.
The Knicks and the Heat will go right back at it on Tuesday night, this time in Miami.
(AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)