Shortly after the New York Knicks finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat stormed back in an unexpected first-round series victory over the Milwaukee Bucks by authoring a dramatic comeback and taking overtime by storm.
Those outcomes rekindled memories of an era from 1997-2000 when the Knicks and Heat met in four straight postseasons that were fiercely contested, often extremely physical and featured numerous low-scoring games.
Two decades later, the teams meet for high stakes again when the fifth-seeded Knicks host the eighth-seeded Heat to open the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday afternoon in the heart of New York.
“It’s always good for the league when there’s a Heat-Knicks playoff series,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Knicks are in the second round for the first time since 2013 when they lost a six-game series to the Indiana Pacers. Before 2013, their last second-round appearance occurred in 2000 when they outlasted the Heat in seven games.
Miami is the sixth No. 8 seed to reach the second round. One of those teams was the 1999 Knicks, which advanced past the Heat on Allan Houston’s game-winner.
The Houston shot was part of Heat-Knicks playoff legend that were remembered for things like a brawl in Game 5 of a 1997 series and Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy clinging to the leg of the Heat’s Alonzo Mourning during a fight in 1998.
New York reached the second round this season by winning the final three games against Cleveland, including Wednesday’s 106-95 clincher. Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and RJ Barrett added 21 and both players were productive in the series with Brunson averaging 24.0 points and Barrett averaging 17.4.
Brunson and Barrett’s production helped offset the limited production of Julius Randle (14.4 points, 6.4 rebounds), who has not fully recovered from a sprained left ankle.
Randle sprained his left ankle March 29 against Miami, missed the final five games of the regular season, then sprained the ankle again Wednesday after playing 16 minutes. Randle has been practicing and the Knicks are hopeful their regular season leading scorer (25.1 points) and rebounder (10.0) can play Sunday.
Miami advanced after Butler dominated its five-game series with Milwaukee. Known for dazzling playoff performances, like in 2000 when he willed the Heat into the NBA Finals, Butler averaged an astounding 37.6 points in the first-round and scored 42 on Wednesday.
In the clincher, Butler hit a tying basket while falling to his back with 0.5 seconds remaining in regulation before the Heat completed the comeback from 16 points down for a 128-126 overtime victory.
“We’re a good group of basketball players and we’re having fun whenever we’re out there,” Butler said. “We’re playing basketball the right way and good things happen if you do that.”
Butler scored 56 points in Game 4 when Miami dominated the fourth quarter of a 119-115 victory. The two close wins in the final two games occurred after the Heat tied an NBA record by winning 24 games by five points or less during a 44-win regular season that sent them to the play-in round.
“I know what he’s about. He knows what we’re about,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, who coached Butler with the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves. “So, let’s go.”
The Heat also advanced by shooting 45.0 percent from 3-point range despite losing Tyler Herro to a right hand injury in Game 1.
Herro’s replacement, Duncan Robinson, made 14-of-19 attempts (73.7 percent) and Butler was 12-of-27 (44.4 percent). Those performances occurred after Miami ranked 27th in the regular season by shooting 34.4 percent from behind the arc.
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