Discover more from Knicks Film School
Thanks to poor outside shooting, a lack of poise, and no Julius Randle, the Knicks drop Game 1
Yesterday was such a tough afternoon to deal with. Game 2 of the Cleveland series was almost two weeks ago. Since then, the highs just kept getting higher without a low point in sight. Besides the injury to Julius, the vibes were immaculate, and there was a sense that the Knicks were more than ready for the battle ahead.
And for a good portion of yesterday’s game, they were, right up until…they weren’t. We’ll get into what went wrong and what needs to improve in order for them to even up the series on Tuesday, but first, a quick summary of the action…
Game Recap: Knicks 101, Heat 108
⌚️ 60 Seconds or Less: This game couldn’t have started off much better for the Knicks, who took 10 fewer threes than Miami in the first quarter but still led by 11 thanks to a virtuoso start from RJ Barrett. Jalen Brunson picked up the slack in the second, brushing off a 1-for-7 start to make his next five attempts. If it wasn’t for some extremely poor outside shooting (3-for-16 from deep) and untimely turnovers, New York was near perfect.
But those imperfections kept the halftime lead at just five. It left the door open for Miami to get back in the game, and they wasted little time doing so with runs of 10-0 and 24-11 that put the Knicks down eight. From there, the Heat responded every time the home team threatened to make a push right up until midway through the fourth, when New York finally closed the gap to three.
It never got closer than that. Despite Jimmy Butler badly spraining his ankle with 5:05 remaining and being a non-factor down the stretch, Miami made every big play while the Knicks looked utterly unready for prime time. New York scored just one point over a four-and-a-half minute stretch until a meaningless Josh Hart tip-in with under 30 seconds to go ended the draught, and the Heat took Game 1.
I was going to try to rank these, but they all sort of blend into one another, making it hard to consider one without considering them all…
🏀 No Julius A Problem: It was clear from early on that the Heat weren’t very worried about what Obi Toppin did or didn’t do to them on the offensive end. They allowed him to fire away almost exclusively on good looks from behind the arc, and while the final results (7-of-15 overall, 4-of-11 from deep) were solid, the extra attention it allowed Miami to pay to New York’s more threatening offensive players was worth the trade off. Most notably, Bam Adebayo was tasked with neutralizing Mitchell Robinson instead of having to cover Randle. Mitch got going a bit (14 boards, five offensive) but his impact was muted in comparison to the first round.
It’s tough to see the Knicks winning this series without a healthy Julius occupying Miami’s attention very soon. He was a game time decision here, so hopefully, the 54 or so additional hours he has to heal will be enough to get him back out there.
🏀 Cold as Ice: In putting up 34 attempts from behind the 3-point line and making just seven, the Knicks shot their second lowest percentage from deep in a playoff game since 2000 (out of 36 games) and became just the 18th team ever to attempt that many threes while making below 21 percent. The last 16 times a team has done it, they’ve lost.
Their poor shooting hovered over this game to a significant degree, and by the time they were through three quarters and had made just 5-of-29 in those 36 minutes, it seemed as if the cold shooting had gotten to them. They attempted just five threes in the final 12 minutes, which begged the question…
🏀 More Grimes? Unlike Randle, Quentin Grimes was good to go in this one, yet played just 10 minutes. He attempted three shots in that time, all from downtown, making one.
It’s tough to overreact to the thought process of playing Grimes so little without knowing just how healthy he was (Q was a game time decision as of an hour and a half before tip off). That said, he gave it a go and looked fine. Without Randle, there’s an argument that Toppin’s size was of added importance (he did grab eight boards), but the Heat were also targeting Obi on the other end, getting him involved in the action whenever they could.
Meanwhile, Josh Hart played 43 minutes, missing all four of his threes, but was excellent guarding Jimmy all afternoon and did several Josh Hart things that didn’t show up in the box score, including running down an attempted hit-ahead pass to Butler that prevented an easy Heat bucket.
🏀 Futile Final Five: When Jimmy Butler went down in a heap after landing on Josh Hart’s foot and was writhing in pain on the ground, the Knicks had scored nine of the previous 13 points to cut the lead to three. Butler stayed in the game and hit both free throws, but was clearly encumbered by the ankle. New York had its chance.
After Brunson converted a runner to get the lead back down to three, New York forced a miss but Kyle Lowry dislodged the rebound from Mitchell Robinson’s grasp, leading to a tough contested three from Gabe Vincent that swung momentum Miami’s way. But Butler was still hobbled and there were over four minutes left in a six-point game. The ensuing possessions went as follows:
Brunson went at Lowry a second straight time but now got tied up, resulting in a jump ball that he lost.
RJ pushed the pace off a Miami miss but had his shot at the rim blocked by Caleb Martin, who was with him step for step.
After Bam finished a Lowry-initiated pick and roll, the Knicks finally tried to get Butler involved in the action on defense, but Barrett was called for a blatant moving screen. Lowry made a tough fallaway jumper on the other end to increase the lead to 10.
With Butler guarding RJ, Brunson and Barrett executed a dribble handoff to get Butler switched off of RJ, who proceeded to attack Martin. He got Lowry to double, but when he tried to kick to Lowry’s man (Hart) now open behind the arc, Hart fumbled the slightly off-target pass and it went out of bounds.
After a Bam miss, RJ drove the lane with the smaller Lowry on him, but was stripped as he went up for an attempts. Heat ball.
Following another Heat miss and barely enough time to stage a comeback, IQ pushed the pace and beat his man to the rim, only to be met by Adebayo, who bothered the shot but left Mitchell Robinson open in the process. Lowry fouled Robinson on the put-back attempt, but Mitch missed both free throws.
And with that, for all intents and purposes, the game was over.
The question, of course, is whether there were missed opportunities to attack a hobbled Butler down the stretch. Viewed individually, each Knick decision here was defensible in theory if poorly executed in actuality. Zooming out, the entire final five minutes felt rushed and frantic by the home team. It was very clear which of these squads has won six playoff series in the last four years and which is still getting used to this level of pressure.
🏀 Too Many Love Letters: Tomorrow’s newsletter will focus on the third quarter stretch that saw the game get away from the Knicks, but the main takeaway was that New York allowed Kevin Love to throw not one, not two, but three full court assists after grabbing defensive rebounds, all of which turned into easy points.
Thibs called a timeout to put an end to the bombing, but the damage had been done. The Knicks went from tied to down eight in the span of two and a half minutes, and they never fully recovered.
🏀 Brunson Bad (for him): I’m not going to harp on a subpar game from New York’s MVP, because if anything, calling this a bad game from Brunson speaks to just how high he’s set the standard for himself this season. He finished with 25 points and seven assists, but needed 23 shots to get there and turned it over five times - an insanely large number given his usual level of care with the ball. He also missed all seven attempts from downtown, and is now shooting just 23.7 percent from long range in the postseason - the fourth worst of 29 players averaging at least 20 points per game in the playoffs.
In short, there’s a reason Jalen put the loss on his shoulders after the game, calling his performance “horrific.” If JB’s season has been defined by the warm feeling of comfort he engenders in Knick fans everywhere, this game was defined by the opposite, save for a very hot stretch in the second quarter. He knows he needs to be better, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be.
💫 Stars of the Game 💫
⭐️ Isaiah Hartenstein
⭐️ Josh Hart
⭐️ Obi Toppin
I’m splitting the last two podium spots between three players because a) none of them stood out enough to get the 2-star spot, but b) they all deserved recognition for what were largely positive contributions on the afternoon.
Hart has been so automatic from deep since he got to New York, so it’s hard to fault him for coming up empty here. Similarly, even if the defense was comfortable giving up the looks they did to Toppin, he was the only player in a Knick uniform able to convert his threes at a respectable rate. Credit to him for continuing to fire away and finish this game with a very respectable 18 points on 7-of-15 shooting overall.
As for Hartenstein, he played some outstanding defense throughout this game and was the better of the two centers overall. It’ll be interesting to see if, moving forward, Thibs goes with him for more than the 14 minutes he saw yesterday.
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ RJ Barrett: For one half of basketball, RJ Barrett was the best player on the court in this game, hands down. He hit 6-of-7 from the field, pulled down five boards and dished four assists. From the middle of the first to early on in the second quarters, he was as in command of both his game and the game as we’ve ever seen him. Even plays that didn’t result in points evinced a player who was firing on all cylinders:
Watch him at the start of this play, commanding Obi Toppin to come up and set a screen so he could get the switch. If he was miked up for the game, we might have heard him say “BRING ME DUNCAN ROBINSON.” He may as well have. This was RJ in Norse God mode like we’ve never seen him.
That level of play continued into the start of the third quarter, when Barrett started 2-for-2 and briefly staked New York to an 8-point lead.
From then on though, it was a different story. He missed his last five shots of the third quarter, and then had that rough end to the fourth, with three of his attempts blocked, two free throws missed (out of six), an offensive foul and a bad pass turnover that, granted, wasn’t totally his fault.
But even that end shouldn’t sully what was another step in the right direction for Barrett, who finished with 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting, nine rebounds and seven assists to four turnovers. I admitted last week that at some point in the middle of this season, I was mentally all the way out on RJ. Well, this game only moved me further back in.
Barrett isn’t the first 22-year-old to have a rough end to a playoff game and he certainly won’t be the last, but what came before it was even more evidence of someone capable of dominating on the largest stage.
As Thibs says, you win or you learn. You can bet that RJ will learn from this one and come back stronger because of it.
At least he’s in good company though. The three lower than him: Giannis, Joel Embiid and LeBron James.