The Knicks walked shrugged off the court at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. Dissolving into a hodgepodge of people shuffling, yelling insults at officials and Heat fans.
It’s hard to have perspective in moments like this.
Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson scored 25 but missed all seven 3-pointers.
On Sunday, the Knicks lost to the Heat 108-101 in Game 1 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. They lost, even though Heat star Jimmy Butler didn’t have the explosive scoring power he had when he beat the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.
But despite the moody mood that enveloped the Garden after the game, it wouldn’t be wise to bury the Knicks for their performance. is. Perhaps more importantly, they still have time to get through this series.
Knicks guard Josh Hart said, “I don’t think anyone thought this game, the series was going to win or lose in the first game,” he later added. “A tough, physical series. and every game will be different.”
Neither the Heat nor the Knicks were expected to last very long in the playoffs.
The Knicks finished the regular season as the fifth seed in the East against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that the Knicks traded for unwanted star Donovan Mitchell.
The Heat faced even longer odds as the eighth seed against a team of Bucks led by this year’s Most Valuable Player finalist Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Instead, the Heat and Knicks easily beat their first-round opponents, requiring only five games each. Miami benefited from Antetokounmpo’s injury and Butler’s dynamism. Butler scored 56 points in Miami’s Game 4 victory over the Bucks, and two days later in the series deciding game he scored 42 points.
That meant containing Butler was important for the Knicks, a team that values defense and depth of layers.
The Knicks had a home-court advantage and a tactical advantage in that manager Tom Thibodeau knew Butler well. He coached Butler in Butler’s first four seasons in the NBA and with the Chicago Bulls when Butler played for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
On Sunday, Butler had 25 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. More importantly, his on-court attention made things easier for teammates who have thrived under playoff pressure.
Knicks shooting also did them particularly damaging. Branson wasn’t the only one to struggle from 3 points. Overall, the Knicks made just 20.6 percent from 3-point range, including 3-of-16 in the first half.
With five minutes and five seconds remaining, Butler struggled to get off the court after turning his ankle while tangling with Hart. He refused to leave the game. With Butler staggering, the Heat turned to guard Kyle Lowry to extend the lead from his 3 to his 11.
Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said, “It’s certainly inspiring him not to come out of the game.” It gave people a lot of confidence.”
Historically, when the Heat and Knicks faced each other in the playoffs, the fight resembled a boxing match more than a basketball match. The Mornings were both in Sunday’s game, running into each other in the paint.
Sunday’s game was more scoring than those games a quarter century ago, but it was just as physical.
“I don’t expect every game to be like this,” says Spoelstra. “We played them four times during the regular season. bottom.
However, he also said he expected the series to be a “cage fight”.
What the Knicks have already accomplished this postseason causes optimism about their future.
They weren’t supposed to make a deep playoff run, even Branson, who was a finalist for the league’s Most Valuable Player award this year. widely considered. If they win this series and advance to the conference finals, they’ll exceed most expectations.
They have avoided the kind of ludicrous drama that characterizes the decade-long desert they wandered into until they create a stable environment with Thibodeau at their helm.
The Knicks soundly beat the Cavaliers, justifying their reluctance to break the roster in order to trade for Mitchell.
Their depth propelled them against Cleveland. That’s why you often find success even when playing shorthanded.
On Sunday they played without Julius Randle, who is out with a sprained ankle. Thibodeau refused to use it as an excuse for losing the match.
“Enough is enough,” he said after the game.
The Heat were also missing a key player — guard Tyler Herro broke his hand in the first round and is expected to miss several weeks.
Butler did not speak to reporters after the game. But if you’re serious, it might change the complexion of the series. Still, the Knicks knew how difficult they were after seeing what the Heat did in the first round against the Bucks.
“They never give up,” said Knicks forward RJ Barrett. “That’s one of the things I personally enjoy about him in the series. It’s going to be a hard fight. It’s tough. You have to get out there and take it.”