The Miami Heat fall to the Knicks in the Garden. A tight game all the way through, yet falling apart late.
It was a flipped script for the Heat, as Miami’s role players showed up, as Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo quietly coasted.
#1: First quarter: two completely different stories to begin this game.
The Knicks come out with an abrupt 8 points to start this game, as the Heat couldn’t buy a field goal on the other end. After some of these previous performances, you could almost sense this team folding. But they didn’t. The next 14 points were scored by the Heat, giving a lot of the credit to their defensive principles. As I say often, this team was a top 5 defense early in the season for one reason only: forcing turnovers. That’s what they did in that opening quarter, forcing 7. Gabe Vincent was the main reason for that, which brings me to an even bigger takeaway: they need defensive Vincent much more often. His ‘in your grill’ type of style that we saw last year needs to be consistent, since that hasn’t been the case this year. He had a quick 3 steals, but he was just battling and contesting. This group needs a reliable point of attack defender in that guard room.
#2: Duncan Robinson in, Max Strus foul trouble.
Max Strus entered halfway through the first quarter as he usually does, but he exited a lot quicker than usual. After picking up 3 immediate fouls with the Knicks going right at him, Duncan Robinson had his number called. And well, he came in absolutely firing. Hit a quick corner 3 to kick off his stretch, but the next play is what stood out. Catches on the right wing, pump fake and attack for a paint touch, kick-out to Victor Oladipo, relocates to the short corner, and another 3 is the result. Why is that important? That movement is much needed in this Heat offense right now, and simply shot making is a good way to characterize a current Heat need. At halftime, he had 9 points on 3 of 3 shooting. It was a good boost to a constant uphill battle of an offense.
#3: Further lineup change needs to be coming…
Let’s talk specifics. When it comes down to evaluating this Heat roster, it’s clear that certain guys just aren’t cutting it. Actually a plethora of guys haven’t been cutting it, but only a few have the option to actually be shifted. Looking at the halftime stat sheet, you would see 0 of 8 shooting from Kevin Love and Victor Oladipo. All threes and 0 of 4 shooting a piece. When talking about Love, I think this experiment is coming to a close. The defense is bending to favor him, and the shooting is nowhere near the level they need it to be. I don’t think they have an option as they head into an inevitable playoff game. As for Oladipo, he subbed into the rotation again due to Kyle Lowry being out, but he’s not making his individual case any better. He just falls in love with that three ball way too often, and doesn’t really have an off switch even after rough starts. The rotation will be shrinking soon, but these two performances specifically is much more than a one half sample size.
#4: The Heat playing into an old blueprint.
As Erik Spoelstra would talk about in many postgame press conferences last season and even early this year, the team had a statistical goal on a night to night basis. Get 40 threes up. As the season went on and the three point percentages dropped lower, they pretty much got away from that style of offense since the team’s two best players don’t shoot threes and the role players are struggling. Tying this to tonight, a few minutes into the 4th the Heat were already edging up on the 40 three point attempt mark. They were hovering around 33% for most of that time, but that was pretty much all Gabe Vincent and Duncan Robinson. If it wasn’t for them, the Heat would somehow be below their usual mark. Don’t like them falling into this trap, but it’s just interesting to monitor.
#5: Late-game walkthrough…
Under 6 minutes to go, Quentin Grimes gets fouled and goes to the line, followed by Josh Hart going coast to coast for the dunk, quickly into a Heat turnover and Knicks run-out with Erik Spoelstra strolling onto the court for a timeout as they go down 9. Out of the timeout, we flowed right into the usual instant replay madness in today’s NBA. Josh Hart strips the ball from Jimmy Butler, who dribbles into a turnaround jumper that banks in, yet the official calls for a double dribble. They talk it over, give the Heat the ball back with no bucket, and Miami folds on a 4 second shot clock. Under 4 minutes to go, a Jimmy Butler tip-in and Tyler Herro mid-range pull-up add to the flow, but the Knicks kept answering. I often discuss consistency with this Heat team, but it feels even the energy operates in waves. With a tie game entering the 4th, the Heat needed a big quarter with the hole they’ve put themselves in this year, but they couldn’t respond yet again.