Through four games in their second round series, the heat became a smarter, more physical, more disciplined and ultimately better team than Knicks. Miami raced to a 3-1 lead, and the only game the team dropped was none Jimmy Butler.
The battle now shifts to New York where the Knicks will hope to avoid an early exit against a team they are favored to beat. Here’s what New York needs to do to avoid the end of its season.
1. Rebound the ball!
This is New York’s strength heading into the series. The Knicks dominated the Cavs on the boards in the opening round, with Mitchell Robinson looking like a sci-fi mashup of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain The Heat flipped the script, outscoring the Knicks by 11 in two games in Miami.
The offensive boards were the difference in Game 4, where the Heat grabbed seven of their own turnovers in the fourth versus New York as both teams threw bricks. It was an unstoppable effort from a Knicks team with a huge advantage in the frontcourt.
2. Find their three-point stroke
New York wasn’t a great three-point shooting team in the regular season—35.4% from deep, 19th in the league—but it wasn’t as bad in the second round. The Knicks shot 28.2% from outside. Players may hesitate to shoot or miss immediately. This is a problem especially when Miami packs the paint as aggressively as it has been.
The Heat deserve credit for executing their defensive scheme. They send more bodies to Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, and close when needed. They’re also willing to stop looking from beyond the arc if it means helping Brunson and Randle in the lane. The Knicks did not take advantage of that strategy to three points success. Josh Hart, Obi Toppin, RJ Barrett, and Quentin Grimes will make appearances. They have to find a way to connect.
3. More from Julius Randle
Randle had a better Game 4 than Game 3, but it wasn’t enough from someone who will likely make All-NBA this year. His six turnovers and six fouls were a big negative for his 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. His attention to detail defensively was not good enough, allowing many blow-bys on the perimeter and giving offensive rebounds to smaller players.
It won’t be easy against a locked-in defense. But the stars must rise this time of year. He needs to be sharper on defense, and stay efficient on offense without coughing up the ball.
4. Are there any answers for the bank?
The Heat was successful in this series that took advantage of the non-star minutes. Kyle Lowry led Miami’s second unit—and especially at the start of the second quarter—favored the Heat with games in the captains group without Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo on the floor. New York should have dominated when Miami’s stars were out of the game, but that wasn’t the case.
The Knicks are in a tough spot here, especially without Immanuel Quickley, who missed Game 4 with a sprained ankle. Tom Thibodeau tried to compensate by moving Josh Hart to the bench and giving some minutes to Miles McBride. It didn’t work. Lowry (15) surpassed the bench in New York (10) himself on Monday. If Quickley misses Game 5, this could be another sore spot for the Knicks.