It was one of the worst shooting games of the season for the Miami Heat, by far: 39% from the field, 22% from 3-point range, barely 50% on usually easy shots at the rim.
Defense — still the Heat staple, even in these high-scoring NBA days — came through and moved Miami two wins away from another trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
Jimmy Butler returned from his sprained right ankle to score 28 points, Max Strus added 19 and the Heat topped the New York Knicks 105-86 Saturday to take a 2-1 lead in their East semifinal series.
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“It’s about figuring out how to compete at a really high level,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “What’s necessary for that game to be able to win.”
For as poorly as the Heat shot, the Knicks were worse — 34% from the field, 20% from 3-point range, 46% from the restricted area around the rim.
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And that was the story.
“You’ve got to win games different ways,” Heat guard Kyle Lowry said. “In the playoffs, like I’ve said many a time and for many years now, every game is seriously different. And this is one of those games where we held them down. … To win by half a point, one point, two points, 20 points, it’s about winning the game however it happens.”
Jalen Brunson scored 20 for New York, which got 15 from Josh Hart, 14 from RJ Barrett and 12 from Immanuel Quickley, who left midway through the fourth quarter after spraining an ankle that will be evaluated again Sunday. Julius Randle added 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Knicks.
Game 4 is Monday.
“We couldn’t get stops early, so we couldn’t get any easy buckets,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So, we paid the price.”
Bam Adebayo had 17 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, and Lowry added 14 points as the Heat never trailed. Duncan Robinson opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer, giving Miami an 11-point lead — and the lead remained double digits the rest of the way.
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“Hopefully, we can get back on the right track and find a way to make some shots next game and come out with a win,” Randle said.
There was even a Heat-Knicks dustup under a basket, just like the good ol’ days of the teams’ playoff rivalry — though this one was nothing like P.J. Brown flipping Charlie Ward in 1997 to start a bench-clearing mess that led to suspensions, or Jeff Van Gundy tugging on Alonzo Mourning’s leg in 1998.
This one, such as it was, happened with 14.7 seconds left in the third after a basket by Quickley got the Knicks within 87-70.
Randle and Cody Zeller got tangled as they fought for rebounding position. Randle ended up getting shoved to the floor, Isaiah Hartenstein took offense and shoved Zeller, Caleb Martin took offense and shoved Hartenstein and it took about five minutes to sort out a mess that lasted about five seconds.
The final tally: offsetting technicals on Zeller and Hartenstein, plus a technical on Martin. Randle missed the free throw. And right after it happened, Butler was dancing a bit, enjoying the aftermath of the show.
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“Much ado about nothing,” Spoelstra said.
Butler missed Game 2 with his ankle sprain and limped at times in the second half Saturday but was effective throughout. He had 10 points in the opening quarter as Miami set the tone on both ends; the Heat made 10 of their first 15 shots, the Knicks missed 13 of their first 17, and it took until midway through the second quarter for New York to make a shot from anywhere other than the paint.