Jalen Brunson never talked to his coach about how many minutes he would play, or how many points he had to score.
In the situation the Knicks faced, there’s no need for talk.
“Nothing was said at all,” Brunson said. “Whatever it takes.”
It might take the same effort again in two nights.
Brunson had 38 points, nine rebounds and seven assists while playing all 48 minutes in a season-extending performance, and New York beat the Miami Heat 112-103 on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Knicks denied the Heat’s first attempt to become just the second No. 8 seed to reach the conference finals and sent the series back to Miami for Game 6 on Friday night.
RJ Barrett added 26 points, and Julius Randle — his face a little swollen after getting hit by Bam Adebayo in the first quarter — had 24 for the fifth-seeded Knicks, who stayed alive in hopes of reaching the conference finals for the first time since 2000. They did that by getting by the Heat in seven games in the second round, a possibility that still exists.
The Knicks built a 19-point lead in the third quarter, then hung on when the Heat finally got their 3-pointers to start falling and cut it to two with 2 1/2 minutes remaining.
“You’ve got to kind of scratch and claw and do whatever you can to win the game,” Barrett said.
Jimmy Butler had 19 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the Heat, getting held below 25 points for the first time in this postseason. Bam Adebayo added 18 points, and Duncan Robinson had 17.
Butler poured in 42 points when the Heat finished off Milwaukee in Game 5 in the first round but took only 12 shots Wednesday, even while playing the entire second half.
“It doesn’t matter if I score 40 or 50 or 19 or nine, we always have enough to win,” Butler said. “And if I score 10 points in that game and we win, that wouldn’t be an issue, wouldn’t be a question, and I will continue to play the right way.”
The 1999 Knicks, for now, remain the only No. 8 to get to a conference finals in the current playoff format that began in 1984. They got all the way to the NBA Finals after upsetting the top-seeded Heat in the first round.
The Knicks used a pair of huge quarter-opening runs — 18-2 to begin the second and 23-7 in the third — to build a 73-54 lead midway through the third quarter. The Heat got it all the way down to 103-101 before Isaiah Hartenstein — in the game, because the Heat were intentionally fouling starting centre Mitchell Robinson — slammed home a follow dunk to start New York’s finishing kick.
Only once the Knicks had held on could Brunson finally get a break.
“You have to respect him as a competitor and then find a way to get the job done,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And he was able to get the job done, make those big, important plays.”
Quentin Grimes also went all 48 minutes for the Knicks, finishing with eight points. Coach Tom Thibodeau didn’t rule either using both his starting guards the same way in Miami.
“We’ll see what Game 6 brings,” he said. “If it requires them to do that, then I’m not afraid to do it.”
The Heat dominated Game 3 and outworked the Knicks in the fourth quarter to hold on and take Game 4, positioning themselves to wrap up a series in five games for the second time in this postseason. They began it by knocking off Milwaukee, which had the best record in the league.
But they missed 21 of their first 25 3-pointers and were still down 13 with 9 1/2 minutes before Robinson and Kyle Lowry each made a pair in a 12-3 burst that trimmed it to 95-91 with more than half the final period remaining.
Butler had one of his typical do-everything stretches with a basket, a blocked shot and a free throw to cut it to 103-101, but the Heat couldn’t come all the way back as they did in the deciding game against the Bucks, when they were down by 16 points.
They led 24-14 after one, but Butler began the second quarter on the bench, and the Knicks capitalised. They pushed the pace to get rare easy shots and Barrett made two 3-pointers in an 18-2 spurt that gave them a 32-26 lead.
Randle’s 3-pointer made it 50-47 at the half. Kevin Love got the first basket of the third, but Barrett and Brunson answered with consecutive 3-pointers to ignite the Knicks’ next spurt. The lead was eight before an 11-0 surge, featuring back-to-back 3-pointers by Brunson and Randle, pushed it to 73-54 midway through the period.
Robinson finished 4 of 8 at the line, ending with eight points and 11 rebounds.
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