Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat’s Late Game Rally Not Enough In Madison Square Garden

The playoffs are supposed to start in April, but the New York Knicks and Miami Heat didn’t get the message. In the season’s first encounter, both squads, only two games apart in the standings before the match, broke the other’s schemes.

The Knicks went to man-to-man coverage and switched defenders against screens initially. Facing pick and roll, Knicks center Jericho Sims dropped, allowing Bam Adebayo breathing room at the nail after the dive. But the hosts’ active hands and doubling Jimmy Butler after the catch in the lane forced five turnovers too.

New York ran its pick-and-pop action with RJ Barrett and Julius Randle. The Knicks’ big man swished two jumpers from the corners and splashed one more catch-and-release shot from the left wing. Randle was also mismatch-hunting and commanding the extra help of another defender when Kyle Lowry or Tyler Herro switched on him. This breakdown allowed him to hit Quentin Grimes, the open man in the right corner, for a triple.

New York started by making its first six out of eight shots. Barrett attacked Herro off the dribble every chance he could, converting seven out of nine baskets defended by #14 through four quarters. Additionally, he made a wide-open bucket in the lane after Randle was doubled in the post, plus blowing by Caleb Martin and Lowry for three field goals.

Midway through the first quarter, New York got on a three-on-two fastbreak. It looked like an easy basket as Herro and Martin swarmed in on Barrett, and he dished it to Randle, who had no one in front of him at the cup. But Martin hit an extra gear and came away with a rejection from the blindside of the left-handed Randle. Butler also had two takeaways, and Gabe Vincent had one in the first half.

On the other side, Adebayo showed why he was recognized as a second-time All-Star, awarded minutes before the game. On the baseline, #13 faced up Isaiah Hartenstein, maneuvered into the paint, hesitated, then canned a well-contested fade away. Next, he faked a handoff to Herro at the top of the key and zoomed by Hartenstein for a destructive slam over Evan Fournier. For his penultimate field goal of the period, the Knicks (somehow) lost sight of him in transition as the rock pinballed back from the wing to Adebayo, running his lane for an unbothered jam.

The closing of the first half was a disaster for the visitors. Miami suffered a seven-point gashing in the last minute, only countering with an Adebayo midrange pullup over Sims.

In the third quarter, Miami lived up to its name, raining fire from deep. Herro hit a catch-and-shoot triple and two more, assisted by Adebayo’s screens versus the on-ball defender, while seeing Sims in drop coverage at the top. Lowry, Strus and Martin each hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter, raising Miami’s output in that department to six out of 12.

But Miami’s defense wasn’t as sharp in the second half as it had been through most of the first, and they rarely got to the line. In the last 24 minutes, Grimes and Barrett combined for 12 out of 16 field goals. Since the Heat couldn’t stop the ball handlers at the perimeter, the 2-3 zone was ineffective, and the interior was exposed and clobbered for 56 points.

With over seven minutes left, Miami was down 11 points but managed to cut the deficit to two in crunch time on an Adebayo baseline jump shot over Hartenstein. As the clock ticked down, the Heat over-helped on Barrett’s drive, leaving Grimes open in the corner for a 3-pointer. Herro and Barrett then proceeded to trade baskets. Subsequently, Adebayo intercepted a sideline inbound and was fouled hard on the break by Randle. At the charity stripe, he buried both. Miami was down a point.

When Herro and Butler blitzed Barrett on the left wing, he passed the rock to Grimes, cutting down the middle. It’s a pity the refs didn’t see him travel after the catch, but Grimes then dished to Hartenstein cutting on the baseline as Strus, the low man, came forward to contest.

With a chance to tie, Herro missed from the right wing. The Heat stole New York’s recovery but lost it right back off a bad pass by Strus. Hartenstein started the break, ending with a Randle dunk to take a five-point lead.

Strus made up for his error by splashing a SLOB triple up top. Afterward, New York turned it over on the inbound because Randle slipped, and Miami got the ball. At first, it was called a foul on Adebayo, but coach Erik Spoelstra challenged the call, getting it overturned.

The Heat had 2.1 seconds left for a shot. The Knicks defended well, denying an open pass to everyone but Herro, who curled to the left corner. He took an off-balance jumper over Randle and Barrett. He missed.

At the postgame presser, Spo said his team’s fight to get back into the match was part of its DNA as they’ve been in the most close games of 30 teams. “There were some key swing moments, particularly in the beginning of the fourth quarter where they were able to take control a little bit and get it to almost 10 points. We had to dig our way back…”


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