It was a necessary win for the Knicks. And while it wasn’t pretty, they scraped by.
Facing the Heat without Jimmy Butler, Tom Thibodeau’s squad played at a deficit for most of Game 2 but came alive in crunch time and walked out of Madison Square Garden with a 111-105 victory and an even series.
The Knicks got 30 points from Jalen Brunson and 25 from Julius Randle. They trailed by three with five minutes remaining, but outscored Miami over the remainder, 18-9, picking up pivotal offensive rebounds and hustle plays from Isaiah Hartenstein and Josh Hart.
All evening, the Heat thrived on 3-pointers while sending Knicks defenders into frantic rotations. The visitors led by six with seven minutes left, prompting audible angst from the sold-out Garden crowd. But Miami was ultimately too shorthanded and too saddled by a talent gap without its star, Butler, who sprained his ankle late in Game 1.
“You knew that if he was out, it’d be a different type of game,” said Thibodeau, referencing Miami jacking up 50 3-pointers and frequently playing zone defense. “And it was.”
Randle, as expected, returned after missing Game 1 with his own ankle sprain, grabbing 12 boards and shooting 8-for-18. Brunson also started despite being listed on the injury report with a sore ankle, hitting six treys on 10 attempts.
Hart finished one assist short of a triple-double with 11 rebounds and 14 points.
Brunson was coming off his Game 1 dud, when he committed five turnovers and blamed himself for a “horrific” performance. The “sore ankle” was a new update Monday, and perhaps provided cover for his lack of production.
He certainly recovered in Game 2 with 10 points in the fourth quarter.
“Hey man, if Jalen can, Jalen’s going to [play],” Hart said. “He’s someone who is a warrior. He battles through injuries all the time. He just has to make sure he’s able to be out there perfect.”
Butler, meanwhile, was scratched about an hour before tipoff, with the Heat finally conceding that his sprained ankle wasn’t ready. Two days prior, Butler suffered the injury while driving to the hoop against Hart. He remained in the game for most of the final five minutes, serving as a decoy as the Heat owned crunch time for the 1-0 lead.
It set up a must-win situation for the Knicks, who couldn’t afford to drop the first two games at home.
Game 3 is Saturday in Miami, with three off days for Butler’s ankle to recover.
“You already knew the answer to that,” Thibodeau said when asked if he’s expecting Butler to return in Game 3.
Logically the Heat, with their assortment of castaways and undrafted players, shouldn’t have stood a chance without Butler.
It made a stronger effort than expected but the Knicks, getting 22 points from Caleb Martin and 21 from Gabe Vincent. Unlike in Game 1, however, the Knicks came through down the stretch.
Carmelo Anthony, who still hasn’t officially retired, attended the game, sat near former teammate Amar’e Stoudemire, and received a rousing ovation when introduced on the Jumbotron. …New Jets QB Aaron Rodgers was also at the Garden with teammate Sauce Gardner.
Source: Berkshire mont