Talk about a tale of two halves. From pure disappointment in the first half to an energized group that actually looked like a basketball team in the second half.
#1: The defensive leakage continues in both half-court, and more importantly, transition…
Oh look at that, another 70+ point quarter for the opposing team in the Heat’s own building. As I’ve been noting, the Heat’s shooting is a major problem, but they were at least able to somewhat counter it early in the year by getting games in the mud on the defensive end. Well, that has fallen off completely over the last few weeks. A 20 point opening quarter for Julius Randle set the stage, mostly showcasing that they would find the open slots of Miami’s defense in the half-court following the heavy diet of showing and recovering to eliminate the simple switch. But the bigger issue is that the half-court defense doesn’t even feel like the main issue. Every grinded out Heat offensive possession ends in an extremely speedy Knicks team racing down the floor for layup after layup. No restriction for the Heat in that space whatsoever. The defense has been a problem.
#2: The Butler lineups vs the non-Butler lineups with a clear distinction.
The patterns for this Heat team have been odd as of late. Leaning into an early 5 minute stretch with no Butler or Bam is quite the choice, but Butler was also on pace to play a total of 28 minutes when we hit halftime. That’s an issue in itself, but the reason it’s a bigger problem is due to the fact this team has an insane shift when he’s on and off the floor. It’s one things to look at the lopsided numbers, but the eye test surpasses those stats even further. The Heat don’t have a base without Butler on the floor. They rely on a ton of guard play and pick and rolls, and that is getting them absolutely nowhere. Butler checks in with 6 minutes left in the second quarter, and there’s an immediate change on his way to 19 first half points. We’ve been saying he needs help, but this is looking worse by the day with him on a deserted island.
#3: Oh, is that what a bench looks like?
We can play the blame game on Tyler Herro or Kyle Lowry or Max Strus or Gabe Vincent on a night to night basis surrounding Butler, but let’s take a moment to zoom out for some perspective on a specific unit: the bench unit. Miami’s bench has been non-existent while the Knicks are possibly the most talented bunch in the league. Quickness and scoring from Quickley, solid 2-way play from Josh Hart, energy from Obi Toppin, and a perfect role big in Isaiah Hartenstein. Compared to the Heat’s second unit, they looked like a superteam, as Heat fans count down the seconds until Erik Spoelstra looks down his bench to rotate the core guys back in. This is nothing new since it’s an obvious statement, but seeing this measuring stick up close is definitely eye opening.
#4: A third quarter pick-up: Adebayo, Herro, Butler leading.
Now after all of the negative that I discussed, the Heat made a run of their own to open up the second half, playing with a lot more energy and flow on the offensive end. It began with playing through Bam Adebayo on the break, as he got some easy ones in transition as he started to play much more freely. Some of those short jumpers began to fall as well, getting him and the Heat offense in a flow. Tyler Herro played off of that with some tough pull-ups and movement threes to really spark Miami’s scoring punch. Through all of this, Jimmy Butler was the one creating much of the offense following the over-helping. Playing through their main guys is needed, and the Butler-Herro-Bam grouping showed up in the third.
#5: The fourth quarter…
Jimmy Butler checks in with under 8 minutes to go, Heat down 8. He immediately gets a low block and-1 to cut the deficit back to 5. Shortly after, Victor Oladipo hits his second big shot of the fourth quarter with Butler kicking it out for a top of the key triple. 6 minutes left, 2 point game. A big time Caleb Martin leaning three on the left wing officially put Miami up 1, right before the Heat and Knicks threw some counter punches back and forth. Under 3 minutes to go, a tough Randle fadeaway put the Knicks up 2, followed by a Brunson floater to put at a 4 point game with two minutes to go. Heat respond with a lob to Bam for the dunk, back at a 2 point game. With the crowd getting louder, Bam comes up short on a jumper, rebounded by Butler, and put back in. Simply out working them. Tie game. Another turnaround from Randle is the response, this time being an and-1. Fast forward to a Herro steal and incredible lay-in to put the Heat up 1, followed by a game winning Randle fading three. Tough way to finish that.