Jimmy Butler stared his coach straight in the eye and told him he would continue playing in the game, although his ankle could have been hurting him.
The Miami Heat need the whole season to develop into the team they anticipated, so it is inconceivable that Butler would want to miss a single minute of it now.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday, the No. 8 seeded Miami Heat prevailed against the No. 3 seeded New York Knicks by a score of 108-101, led by Butler’s 25 points and 11 rebounds. The Heat narrowly made it into the playoffs but have been on a roll ever since.
In a postgame interview on the floor with ABC, Butler remarked, “We’re just playing great basketball,” while still demonstrating a limp after spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter of the game. “We’re just playing great basketball,” Butler added.
“Whether we’re at home or on the road, whether things are going well, we’re always here for one other. We believe that together, we are capable of accomplishing something truly remarkable.
The Heat defeated Milwaukee in the first round, becoming the sixth No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed. Gabe Vincent led the team in scoring with 20 points. They continue to show little resemblance to the club just three games ahead of them in the standings.500 when April rolled around, and they were required to win a play-in game to secure the last available spot in the Eastern playoffs.
They averaged 124 points in that series behind Butler’s 37.6 points per game, but they were able to pull off this victory with some good old-fashioned defense and rebounding, which has usually served them so well at this time of year in the past.
“It’s the playoffs, number one,” the announcer said. “You know, going into it that it’s going to be challenging,” the head coach Erik Spoelstra stated. “Two, just because the regular season didn’t go the way we wanted it to go or the way other people wanted it to go does not mean that we weren’t gaining grit and difficult habits and positive things. It wasn’t just the result of playing in the play-in.”
RJ Barrett and Jalen Brunson scored 25 points each for the fifth-seeded Knicks, who advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2013 thanks to their combined efforts. RJ Barrett scored 26 points. They got out to a good start and were in the lead for much of the first half, but the Heat finally got the audience at Madison Square Garden to become more subdued as the game progressed.
The second contest will take place on Tuesday evening.
Julius Randle, an All-Star forward for the Knicks, was out with an injured left ankle, and the team missed him tremendously when the transition points stopped coming, and the game settled into a half-court contest.
They could have used his shooting on a day when they shot 7 for 34 from outside the arc, which resulted in them losing an opportunity to blow the game wide early on and then reducing any chances they had of coming back. Despite his poor shooting performance, Brunson was 0 for seven from the field and committed five turnovers.
He admitted that he had been a horrible person. “Very unusual of me, and the blame lies squarely on my shoulders. I’ve got to be better.”
The Heat dropped by 12 points in the second quarter, but this would not scare a club that had overcome deficits of 15 and then 16 points in the previous two games against Milwaukee. They made steady progress toward erasing the deficit before halftime, then blasted past the Knicks with a run of 21-5 points in the third quarter, and then they moved away to a lead that was double digits in the fourth quarter.
They accomplished this without relying on Butler to have a spectacular performance as he had in the first round when he scored 56 and 42 points in the last two games of that series. After being wounded with 5:05 left to play, he continued to play for the rest of the game, sitting on the court for a while and hobbling to the bench during a timeout before going back out to shoot the free throws. He performed lots of other things that were necessary for them, like staying in the game after getting hurt.
“He reassured me that he wasn’t going to be a liability, and he wanted to stay in there and make sure we get this win,” Spoelstra said. “He wanted to make sure we get this win.”
The rekindling of what was once a passionate rivalry between the Heat and the Butler Bulldogs, who faced each other in consecutive seasons from 1997 to 2000, got off to a strong start with Butler’s performance. Although they have won the previous three, the Knicks must improve their performance to win this game.
Regaining possession of Randle would be an excellent first step in this process. After missing the last five games of the regular season due to an ankle injury, he had a recurrence of the injury in Game 5 against Cleveland and hadn’t done much since the Knicks returned to practice before the playoffs. He went through a workout before the game, but the Knicks decided not to use him around forty-five minutes before tipoff.
Barrett said, “Any time you’re down, especially an All-Star like him, you’re going to miss him,” and that’s exactly what happened today.
When Kevin Love executed a three-point play for Miami, it started a run of 21-5 that cut New York’s lead to 61-53 early in the third quarter. New York was leading at the time. During it, he shot a three-pointer, but his outlet passing was the most important part of his contribution. Love completed three long scoring passes during the run, with Butler’s basket on the last one closing off the run and giving the Heat a lead of 74-66. Aaron Rodgers, the new quarterback for the Jets, was sitting courtside throughout the action.
During the game against the Heat, Kyle Lowry scored 18 points. Bam Adebayo had 16.
Knicks forward Julius Randle suffered his injury for the first time on March 29 against the Heat at Madison Square Garden during the Knicks’ win. In the earlier part of the same month, he closed off a performance in which he scored 43 points with a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to play in a victory against Miami by a score of 122-120. After missing the last two games against Cleveland with a damaged right shoulder, Quentin Grimes scored four points off the bench for the Cavaliers. Josh Hart will remain in the starting lineup for the Knicks, as Tom Thibodeau has decided to retain him there.