In Jimmy Butler‘s absence, The Heat gave the Knicks all they could handle in Game 2, while the Knicks struggled during stretches in the game. What do the Knicks need to change as they head to Miami?
Usually, winning a playoff game and tying a series should be encouraging and helps build momentum heading into the next game. The Knicks 111-105 win against the Heat this past Tuesday gives you the complete opposite feeling if you are the Knicks, or at least it should.
With star Miami Heat F Jimmy Butler missing Game 2 due to an ankle sprain, it was expected that the Knicks would cruise to a victory, especially with the return of Julius Randle. That was not the case.
The Knicks were in a dog fight and could never really breakaway from the Heat until the end. The 2-3 zone that the Heat was in defensively really gave the Knicks issues especially in the 2nd quarter, where New York only shot 5-19 from the field. Plus, the Knicks struggled immensely with defending the three point shot, which is something that was also a problem for them in Game 1.
Whether it was leaving shooters wide open or not fighting to get over screens, the Knicks continued to allow the Heat to hurt them from the perimeter, which made it even harder for the Knicks to pull out the victory. Even though the Heat only shot 17/49 from behind the arc, they continued to make key threes during certain stretches that allowed them to keep the game close, which was largely due to the poor perimeter by the Knicks.
Knicks Big 3
Also, The most concerning thing about this game for the Knicks was the fact that the Big 3 of Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett, and Julius Randle all played well offensively. Barrett scored 16 points in the 1st quarter and ended the game with 24pts while shooting nearly 50% from the field. Brunson tallied 30 points, including some big threes down the stretch. Randle nearly had a triple double, scoring 25pts while dishing out 8 assists and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Josh Hart was also a big contributor, putting up 14 pts, 11 rebounds and 9 assists while hitting a couple of big shots that sealed the Knicks victory. Even with these four having good games and Jimmy Butler not playing, the Knicks still found themselves nearly going down 0-2 in this series. It’s good that they won but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to gain the advantage in this series and it starts on the defensive end.
Moving forward, the Knicks need to figure out how to slow down the Heat’s streaky shooting as of late. Their perimeter shooting is the main reason why they were able to shock the world by beating the 1st seed Milwaukee Bucks in 5 games. Whether it’s switching to a zone defense or switching matchups, the Knicks need to do a better job on limiting the open threes because this series will be over quick if they don’t.
Now on the offensive end, they need to keep applying pressure with their scoring at the rim while avoiding the on-ball pressure of the 2-3 zone. The Heat’s head coach Eric Spoelstra made this adjustment to a 2-3 zone after the Knicks success in the paint in Game 1. Tom Thibodeau will need to counter that adjustment on the offensive end. Part of this will require the Knicks to shoot better from the perimeter. This does not mean to exchange three pointers with the Heat but it does mean that they will need to be a more efficient shop from deep while sticking to their identity of getting points right at the rim.
Plus, when Jimmy Butler returns, they need to force the ball out of his hands so he won’t get in a rhythm because they will lose if he remains hot like he did against the Bucks.
Overall, the Knicks have their work cut out for them as they head to Miami for Games 3 and 4. If they can double down on these key points, they should be able to claim control on this series. As long as they win one of these next two games, they should be in good shape heading back to MSG in Game 5.