For a moment it all seemed so simple. But when is it ever with the New York Knicks?
What would be joy without pain, nor relief without fear? In four quarters, New York provoked those emotions and more for a sold-out crowd of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden en route to booking another Eastern Conference semifinal, this time in Miami Friday night.
Julius Randle (24 points), RJ Barrett (26 points) and leader Jalen Brunson (38 points) were the three-man monster the Knicks needed to take on the NBA’s best-coached franchise. The triumvirate’s combined 88 points were just enough to top a standout performance from the Miami bench, who put up 42 to the Knicks’ eight.
New York’s quieter reserves came alive late, especially Mitchell Robinson who knocked down several free throws in the clutch. Facing elimination, the Knicks knew the season-defining reality that lay ahead. New York was without Immanuel Quickley and Evan Fournier, runner-up Sixth Man of the Year, and yet none of that mattered, especially to the raucous Madison Square Garden faithful.
Whether it was their collective vote or a departure from the supposed energy-sapping South Beach weather, the Knicks started with a desperation and doggedness they had become known for prior to Games 3 and 4 in Miami. New York’s will was clear, as were the mistakes. Perhaps the urgency was too soon. Miami led 24-14 at the end of the first, which was serenaded by a chorus of boos.
Cue Kayvon Thibodeaux, the Giants sophomore defensive star to ease the frustration. His smile and swirling pink shirt sparked applause that refuted concerns on the pitch. Be Faithful by Fatman Scoop, echoed with the famous “Pick it up, Pick it up…” And so did the Knicks, a 36-point second term began with a three-minute blitzkrieg. First with a Quinten Grimes three, then an alley from Jalen Brunson to Obi Toppin. Four straight offensive scores sent the towels swirling and Miami going into a timeout with the Knicks trailing 26–24 less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Chants of “Jalen Brunson” echoed from the yard after pumping out and converting one-and-one. Duncan Robinson stunned the near deafening home crowd with a corner three on a 13-0 Knicks run. The 18-2 frenzied three-minute run was brought to a halt with a much-needed reply from Robinson and a rim-rattler from Bam Adebayo hanging over the rim, to metaphorically suggest his team wasn’t going anywhere as the Heat narrowed the trailing to 32-31.
After five consecutive misses in New York, Miami regained some control without actually hurting the Knicks. As the pace dropped, Brunson became the Knicks’ orchestrator. That was the wish to shut him down. Gabe Vincent received a technical foul while trying to guard Brunson on an inbound.
Adebayo confirmed the physical dominance shown during Games 3 and 4 with a drop in the last minute of the half. While that could have been the exclamation mark, Julius Randle had no intention of letting that happen. Under pressure to perform, the All-Star stepped back three to put a period in the troubled half and, most importantly, beat the Knicks 50-47.
The Garden resembled a home game in days gone by, with seats in every corner as Barrett and Brunson knocked down back-to-back triples to start the second half. Brunson barked and demanded the basketball from an umpire as he looked in from the sidelines, sensing an opportunity to capitalize on the wave of momentum and electricity that pulsed through the arena. Things only got worse after he drained a wide open three to go up 67-54 with seven minutes left in the third.
Chants of “MVP” came from Brunson as he stood at the charity stripe. Things weren’t that exciting for Miami. NBA champion Kevin Love threw up his hands, annoyed when Julis Randle received a kiss from behind the rim’s arc. On the next possession, the former Cavalier’s corner three bounced off the rim and into New York’s arms. For Miami, it was a night of longing, not love.
It could have been easier for New York if not for the Miami resistance. A 17-point lead in the third quarter was eaten by the road crew just when it seemed there was only one possible outcome. Erik Spoelstra’s team brought the tally back to four several times in the fourth, before Jimmy Butler cut it to 103-101 with 2:37. Isaiah Hartenstein replied with a stop-back jam, which caused a massive blowout. They both traded late blows, but New York was on fire and came out alive.
Fittingly, Knicks icons Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier were in the house—on the day 50 years after New York’s last championship—one wonders if they sense something special growing in the yard.
The feel-good factor that swept Fashion Ave was born just four quarters after the postseason’s demise. New York faces the same terrifying reality Friday in Game 6 in a vastly altered environment. 48 minutes of flawed basketball and the Knicks can roam free on South Beach.
Only 13 teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 playoff deficit. When the Knicks play in Miami with the same defiance and spirit, The Garden will get the stage it’s been yearning for for a decade. Then the celebrities are on the field, not on the sidelines.
Jalen Brunson was outstanding again as the Knicks secured a crucial victory against the Miami Heat
Brunson drives ahead with the ball on a big night for the Knicks in New York
Brunson once again led the way for the Knicks in a captivating evening at Madison Square Garden
Jimmy Butler struggled to repeat his heroic performances for the Heat on Wednesday night
Butler was not at his dominant best when the Knicks successfully handcuffed him at MSG
Julius Randle turns to join the Knicks crowd in celebrating a brilliant night for his team
Randle took a punch to the face early in the first quarter, but was able to continue playing for the Knicks
Gabe Vincent runs past Jalen Brunson as he tries to get the heat back in the game
The next game between the two teams – Game 6 – is Friday-evening in Miami