The unpredictable ride of the eighth-seeded Heat continues, with Miami on the brink of yet another trip to the Eastern Conference finals. Jimmy Butler had 27 points and 10 assists, Bam Adebayo finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds and the Heat topped the New York Knicks 109-101 on Monday night.
“It was great that we were able to hold home court,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But we know we have a task in New York.”
They’ll take a 3-1 lead into Madison Square Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday night, one win from wrapping up this East semifinal matchup and returning to the conference finals for the third time in four years.
“We’ve got a job to do,” Butler said, “and I think we’re very capable.”
Max Strus scored 16 points, Kyle Lowry added 15 and Caleb Martin had 10 for the Heat. Miami became only the fourth No. 8 seed in this NBA playoff format — now in its 40th season — to win at least seven games. The Knicks won 12 on their way to the NBA Finals in 1999, while Memphis won seven in 2011 and Philadelphia won seven in 2012.
Jalen Brunson finished with 32 points and 11 assists for fifth-seeded New York, while RJ Barrett had 24 points and Julius Randle scored 20 for the Knicks before fouling out with about three minutes left.
“You’ve got to win four to win a series,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So, all we’re thinking about is win the next game. Go quarter by quarter. Win the first quarter, win the second quarter, win the third, win the fourth. And then the next day we’ll think about the next day.”
Miami missed 12 of its first 15 shots of the fourth quarter, but the Knicks didn’t take full advantage — trimming only three points off the Heat lead in that span. It was nine entering the fourth, and a pair of free throws by Brunson with 4:40 left got New York within 99-93.
But a slam by Martin breathed some life into an antsy building, and the roars got a bit louder about a minute later. With the Knicks down seven, Randle went into the lane but Strus beat him to the spot, drawing contact that became the New York star’s sixth foul with 3:08 left. The Heat held control the rest of the way.
“They got to offensive rebounds, to loose balls, they’ve got some tough guys that get respect,” Barrett said. “I give them credit. They’re working hard. They’ve got guys falling every possession, they’re getting calls, they’re getting rebounds. They’re playing hard. We played hard as well.”
The Knicks never led in Game 3, then held the lead twice in Game 4 but barely.
They had a pair of one-point leads in the opening quarter, for a combined 33 seconds, with Miami erasing the deficits with immediate baskets on its next possession.
But unlike Game 3, when Miami’s lead was double digits for nearly the entirety of the final three quarters, this one remained in some doubt much of the way.
The Knicks cut what was an 11-point deficit down to 67-65 on a 3-pointer by Barrett with 7:07 left in the third, but never got all the way over the hump. An 8-1 spurt over a two-minute stretch late in the third restored the 11-point lead, Miami’s cushion was 90-81 going into the fourth, and the Heat held on.
“We’re kind of fighting an uphill battle,” Brunson said. “Didn’t do enough within the 48 minutes.”
A Miami team that was about 3 minutes from getting eliminated in the play-in tournament is now one win from the NBA’s final four.
It might be unexpected to many — but not to the Heat.
“We’ve been tested this year,” Strus said. “And we knew that when the battles would come, we’d be ready for it.”
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