MIAMI — The Knicks’ season began with lukewarm anticipation and has become what some fans call the most exciting team in over 20 years. ended in a 96-92 loss to .
Jalen Brunson almost led the Knicks to victory, scoring steadily whenever the game seemed to lead. He scored 41 goals, leading all scorers. But Branson’s teammates struggled. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett combined for 4-of-24 shooting and 26 points. Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 24 points.
Barrett admitted his poor performance as soon as he took his seat at the post-fight press conference. Before speaking to reporters, he sadly looked at his stats on the printed box scores on the table in front of him and said, “Wow.”
“I played badly. ‘I’m very disappointed with how I played today,'” Barrett said. , and learn from it. “
After the Heat beat the No. 1 seed in the East and the NBA championship contenders Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, the Knicks’ advance to the Eastern Conference finals seemed looming. The fifth-seeded Knicks had just beaten the talented fourth-seeded Cavaliers led by guard Donovan Mitchell. In contrast, the No. 8-seeded Heat, who averaged 20.1 points per game in the regular season, went into the second round without guard Tyler Herro, who broke his leg against the Bucks.
But once the Knicks’ series against Miami began, the differences between the two teams became apparent. The Heat have a legitimate star player in Butler who seems to be able to lead his team to victory on his own terms. Knicks are not.
“They didn’t play like an eighth seed at all,” Branson said. “They are unbelievable.”
Most NBA fans are used to Butler improving his game in the playoffs, and he’s followed suit this postseason. He crushed the Knicks with his scoring games and great defensive effort. In Game 6 against the Knicks, he averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 assists and 7.0 rebounds per game.
A six-time All-Star, Butler often plays at that level in the regular season, but he’s arguably the best player in these playoffs, leading a group of undrafted starters, and many casual NBA fans may need to know with a Google search.
Meanwhile, the Knicks’ best players, Branson and Randle, are between looking strong enough to take the team to the Eastern Conference Finals or just not ready for this stage. swaying. Branson acknowledged his struggles in Game 1 of the series when he made seven 0 3-pointers and called it “horrible.”
Randle, the Knicks’ only All-Star and All-NBA team selection this season, didn’t look like that player in the playoffs. In the regular season, he averaged a double-double of 25.1 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, but in the playoffs heading into Game 6, he averaged 16.8 points and 8 rebounds per game. Randle was recovering from his ankle injury, which caused him to miss Game 1. But he’s had some worrying playoff struggles before.
The Knicks’ last appearance in the playoffs was two seasons ago, when Randle had another stellar regular-season performance, making his first All-Star team, averaging 24.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in the regular season. achieved. However, in the first round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, he averaged 18.0 points and 11.6 rebounds, despite averaging 37.3 points (a career-high against any opponent) over the team’s three regular-season games. . The Hawks defeated the Knicks in five games.
After the Knicks lost 1-3 in the heat series, Randle questioned the team’s intentions.
“Maybe they want more of that,” Randle said when asked about the Knicks’ poor offensive rebounding and lack of aggression on loose balls. “I don’t know. That’s how we’ve been all year and if we want this season to survive, we’ve got to step up and find a way to make those plays.”
The Knicks fought back in Game 5, thwarting the Heat’s late comeback attempt in a game where Branson looked like the best player on either team.
Friday’s loss was especially disappointing. The Knicks could have had a better edge, but they’ve done too well this season, and a performance like Branson’s in Game 5 has some of the things this team deserves moving forward. indicates that
Last season, the Knicks finished 11th in the East Division after manager Tom Thibodeau and Randle’s future were in doubt. The Knicks missed out on top free agents in the offseason, as they usually do, and didn’t agree to trade Mitchell, but Mitchell said he thought the Jazz would trade him to the Knicks instead of the Cavaliers. Instead, the Knicks signed former Dallas guard Branson, which resulted in him losing a 2025 second-round pick due to cheating.
Branson’s addition made the Knicks one of the most surprising teams in the NBA this season, as Branson and Randle formed an exciting one-two punch. A win over Mitchell’s team in the first round was kind of a statement to those who questioned the Knicks’ decision not to trade Mitchell.
“When I’m here, I’m playing for my family’s money,” said Teddy Foran, 24, who grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, after Game 1 against the Heat. He became a fan of the Knicks because he grew up watching the games with his father.
He added, “The offseason effort to keep the young core was great. As you can see, if you sell out Donovan, you lose the first round by 5. So even if you lose the second round, , you should know that it’s okay.”
Many fans flocked to 7th Avenue to party after the victory as Branson and Randle led the Knicks to their deepest playoff berth since their second-round loss in 2013. The team last reached the NBA Finals in 1999 and the Conference Finals in 2000. But perhaps the Knicks have done enough to make this team attractive to the hard-hitting stars they’ve been desperately chasing and missing each offseason.
“I know how lucky we are,” Thibodeau said of playing in what he calls the best arena in the league, Madison Square Garden. “Hopefully we can make them proud. We try our best, sometimes we fail, but we always bounce back.”