The Knicks home loss in Game 1 was a setback, but it’s still premature to write them off Miami Heat. They still have their depth and defense.
On Sunday afternoon, the Miami Heat Knicks left the court at Madison Square Garden with their shoulders hunched.
The excitement that had filled the stadium before the Miami Heat game had dissipated into a jumble of people shuffled out,
Boastful Heat fans, and a few Knicks supporters shouting curses, chiefly at the game officials and the Heat fans.
In a situation like this, perspective is challenging to maintain.
Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks, a point guard,
Admitted after scoring 25 points but missing all seven of his 3-point attempts, “I was horrific.”
The Knicks walked off the court at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon with rounded shoulders.
The energy that had filled the stadium before the Miami game had faded into a tangle of people being hustled out,
Cocky Heat fans, and a handful of Knicks supporters shouting expletives, mostly at the game officials and the Heat fans.
Nobody, according to Knicks guard Josh Hart,
“thought this game or the series was going to be won or lost in the first game.”
“I don’t think there’s an opportunity that we let slip away,” he subsequently said.
Every game will be unique in this physical and difficult series.
It wasn’t anticipated that either the Heat or the Knicks would play very long in the playoffs.
The Knicks finished the regular season as the fifth seed in the East, facing a Cleveland Cavaliers team that had traded for the star the Knicks wouldn’t — Donovan Mitchell.
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As the eighth seed, the Miami Heat faced even greater odds against the Bucks,
Who were picked to contend for the title and were led by Giannis Antetokounmpo,
A finalist for the Most Valuable Player Award this year.
Instead, it took the Heat and the Knicks just five games each to easily defeat their first-round opponents.
Miami Heat benefited from Antetokounmpo’s injury and Butler’s energy.
Butler had 56 points in Miami’s victory against the Bucks in Game 4 and 42 in the victory that sealed the series two days later.
That meant that for the Knicks,
A team that relies on its defense and depth, keeping Butler in check would be crucial.
Coach Tom Thibodeau’s familiarity with Butler gave the Knicks a tactical edge and the advantage of playing on their home court.
He worked with Butler during his first four NBA seasons with the Chicago Bulls and again when Butler was a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Butler recorded 25 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals on Sunday.
More importantly, his command of the court made things simpler for his teammates,
many of whom have succeeded in stressful playoff situations in the past.
There is reason for hope for the Knicks’ future given what they have accomplished thus far in this series.
Even with Brunson, who was a nominee for the league’s Most Improved Player Award, they weren’t expected to go far in the playoffs this year.
According to general consensus, the Knicks need one superstar to compete for a championship.
They will have exceeded most expectations if they win this series and advance to the conference finals.
Since establishing a stable environment with Thibodeau in charge,
They have avoided the absurd drama that characterized the decade-long desert they wandered through.
On Sunday, they were playing without Julius Randle, who is out with a sprained ankle.
Thibodeau refused to use that as an excuse for why they lost the game.
“We have more than enough,” he said after the game.
The Heat were also missing a key player — guard Tyler Herro,
Who broke his hand during the first round and is expected to be out for several weeks.
Butler did not address reporters after the game, and Spoelstra said he didn’t know the status of Butler’s injury.
But if it is serious, it could change the complexion of the series.
Still, the Knicks saw what the Heat did in the first round against the Bucks and know how difficult they can be.
“They’re never going to give up,” Knicks forward RJ Barrett said.
“That’s one thing I personally enjoy about this series.
It’s going to be hard-fought. It’s going to be tough.
You’ve got to go out there and kind of take it.”