Getting it Done
No style points, no problem.
Needed it, needed it, needed it.
And we got it. Phew.
The Knicks have three days off after tying up their second round series with the Heat at one game apiece, and in that time, I’ll focus on some nuances of this game and look forward to what they can do to nab a game or two in Miami. For today though, let’s enjoy a game that epitomized the phrase, “Perfect is the enemy of the good.”
Game Recap: Knicks 111, Heat 105
⌚️ 30 Seconds or Less: From the opening tip, even with Jimmy Butler in street clothes, you just knew this wasn’t going to be easy. A Miami Heat team with nothing to lose and everything to gain came out firing, eventually hitting 10-of-26 from deep in a first half that briefly saw them go up by as many as eight. It would have been much more had it not been for RJ Barrett and the returning Julius Randle, each of whom took turns propping up New York’s offense in the early going. The second half saw New York’s mainstays pass the baton to the newest Knicks, as Josh Hart, Isaiah Hartenstein and the previously questionable Jalen Brunson helped carry them home with big plays and bigger shots. In a game that was much closer than anyone would have preferred, the team that has refused to give in all season long came up big when it mattered most.
No Style Points, No Problem
My, oh my, how far we’ve come.
That’s all I could think about not only during this game, but afterwards as well, when there was still a fair amount of negativity in the air. The Knicks had just won their third second round playoff game of the last 23 years. There have been nearly twice as many US Presidents in office as there have been New York conference semifinal victories during this span of time. This is not a thing to be taken lightly.
And yet, people were not happy - and really, who could blame them?. No Jimmy Butler, on a team that barely even got into the playoffs, with Randle back and Brunson healthy…how was this not a walkover? If we are, as we purport to be, a serious team, than how was this not a 20-point margin heading into the fourth quarter, as opposed to a one-point deficit? Why were we not able to take greater advantage of their imperfect personnel? And why, God, why were we giving up so many threes?
Valid concerns, every one of them. We all felt it too. As the Heat continued to make big play after big play and big shot after big shot anytime the Knicks made a push, we all sat there wondering, where is the team we rooted for all year, and why are they letting their opponent dictate the terms of engagement in our own building?
It was all too easy to get caught up in the moment - get caught up in the storm clouds that had infiltrated a season that had been sunshine and rainbows for the better part of the last five months.
It seemed like the ultimate failure. And yet, if you paused for a moment to stop and think about it, wasn’t is closer to the ultimate irony?
As some astute viewer noted on the postgame last night, if someone had told him before the season started that the Knicks would be tied at one game apiece in the Eastern Conference semifinals, he’d have signed for it eight days a week. We all would have, easily. Yes, the season played itself out and goalposts were rightly moved, but it doesn’t change the fact that this team has out-kicked its coverage to an extent that blows away the nearest competitor. Consider the other seven teams still alive. With Joel Embiid being honored yesterday, five of them have current or former MVP’s in or near their prime. A sixth, Boston, has been far and away the best team by advanced statistics for going on 16 months. The seventh, Miami, was a one-seed in 2022 and is tied with the most playoff series victories in the NBA (six) since Jimmy Butler arrived.
This is who the Knicks, with their preseason over/under of 38.5 wins, were dancing with as the calendar flipped to May. For us to now be complaining about the manner in which a second round win was achieved not only lacks a bit of perspective, but some much needed context as well. This is the NBA in 2023 after all, where the 3-point shot is the great equalizer, and no underdog can ever truly be ruled out, let alone one with this level of pedigree and coaching.
Should the Knicks have been in a dogfight? Probably not. But should anyone have been shocked that they were? Not in the slightest.
In a postseason that has already seen the Bucks win without Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Clippers nearly win multiple games without either of their All-NBA forwards, and most recently the Sixers win without Joel Embiid, the most important thing is that New York found a way to steal this victory from the jaws of defeat.
Most impressively - and most importantly, at least where the rest of this season is concerned - was how they did it. In ending this game on a 23-12 run after the Heat had taken a six-point lead with 7:06 to go, the Knicks finally found themselves.
A team that at times looked discombobulated on both ends got back to their bread and butter: physicality, offensive rebounds, driving and kicking, and of course, a whole lot of Jalen Brunson.
It was the mark of a group that wasn’t going to shrink on the massive stage, and hopefully, one that is only going to get better as those bright lights intensify. They are one win in the next two games away from getting this series right back where they need it to be. They will have to play better. They know that. But they also know they are capable of doing so, and that’s because they’ve done it, time and time again this season.
Miami deserves all the credit in the world for making things seem so dire. This is what they do. But the ‘96 Bulls, they are not. This series is a long way from over.
It may not have come easily, but last night was absolutely necessary in keeping the dream alive.
That’s right. It’s May, and we’re dreaming about something other than ping pong balls.
No style points? No problem.
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