The New York Knicks (9-6) played a must-win game on Friday against the Miami Heat (10-6) and they came out of it alive and still in contention to lift the In-Season Tournament cup next month in Las Vegas, winning 100-98 at MSG.
Nothing remarkable about this game, as the Knicks went on to win both halves of this heated (no pun intended) affair by one point each, thus the final two-point advantage.
Easy peasy, right? Wrong.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s the picture, you be the one thinking about those 1K words.
YIK01 asked: “Did it really happen?”
And YIK01 answered himself: “This is the comeback to remember.”
The Knicks came out guns blazing, went up 10-1 in less than three minutes of play... and then allowed the Heat to go wild themselves by giving up everything and doing nothing themselves on offense, in what amounted to be a flipped script in which Miami recovered from that early deficit going for a 15-2 rally.
With more than 5:30 left in the first, this thing was a close-but-wild 16-12 game and we didn’t have a clue about what the climax of the affair would bring our way.
For a sneak peek, take the following quote by Jalen Brunson out of context, imagine finding out about it right after the end of the 28-25 first quarter, or even the Knicks-led first half (51-50), and you’d be hella confused.
"Honestly, a fan looked at me in my eye over here and said 'This is embarrassing.' So I'll say him"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) November 25, 2023
–– Jalen Brunson to Cassidy Hubbarth on what motivated him in the Knicks 21-point comeback win over Miami pic.twitter.com/iLqvfhxQhw
Miami brought the heat (pun intended) in the third frame. They fired a whole bunch of flamethrowers, burned MSG down to ashes, buried the Knicks alive, and dumped 37 points on New York’s collective forehead against just 20 pops netted by the local zombies-in-the-making.
Wisely chosen word, zombie.
Dead, but living. Which is to say: not done, not finished.
We’ve witnessed our beloved Knickerbockers fail to close winnable games against fierce, highly talented opponents in the recent and distant past. It sucks. Tell Miami about that feeling after their fourth-quarter stinker.
Q4: Miami 11, New York 29.
It doesn’t get much crazier than what you watched on Friday or, if for some reason you missed the game, what you can watch on the clip above.
Before we hit peak-Knickercraziness late in the game, the truth is that Miami opened the second half on a stupid 19-1 run. Yes, 19-1. The Knicks shot 8-24 in the third quarter. They went nil-for-9 from beyond the arc.
[Russell with the detailed numbers if you want a fine-grained summary.]
It was horrible, to say the least.
“They hit us pretty hard to start the third,” Tom Thibodeau said.
The final period was an entirely different story.
“But we hit them back,” Thibs finished.
The Knicks went on an uncontested 11-0 run. They took the lead (the lead, down from 21!) when RJ Barrett took matters on his own, drove to the basket, bagged a jumper, and nailed the and-one on a three-point play that put New York ahead.
After the game, Brunson said, “I’m hurt, but I’m fine.” He was talking about his damaged shoulder.
Had that been a Miami Heat quote, the player in question might have been Jimmy Butler coming off a loss in which he hoisted (and missed) the final Hail Mary.
“I definitely thought that was going in. I am always going to go for the win,” Butler said. “We’re going to live with the result, but I guarantee I am making the next one.”
Defending Butler was the face of the Knicks, the Maple Mamba, RJ Barrett.
“You watch film,” he said. “I’ve been watching Jimmy since I was a kid. I knew he was gonna go to the step-back. I thought he was gonna go to the step-back right, but he went left.
“I love it,” he said. “Jimmy’s obviously a good player, so being able to get that stop and secure the win definitely feels good.”
RJ Barrett’s 4 defensive stops on Jimmy Butler with under 3 minutes to go— Teg (@IQfor3) November 25, 2023
And even though RJ hit the game-tying and go-ahead buckets, stopped Butler in his tracks, and sealed the Knicks' comeback, the MVP of the game was none other than an unconscious Jalen Brunson.
“As a competitor, you want to win whatever is in front of you, no matter what it is. It’s just another opportunity really,” Brunson said after the game with New York still fighting to make the knockout stages of the In-Season Tournament. “So put me anywhere—I’ll play wherever.”
The Knicks should deal with Charlotte on Tuesday, then wait for whatever else happens around the Association to know their fate in the IST. With just one team advancing automatically from each group and wild cards decided by point differential and head-to-head tiebreakers.
New York has a +18 point differential after Friday’s win, leading all teams in the run for a Wild Card berth. Miami has already lost the H2H against the Knicks, so even the tiniest of victories over the Hornets should be enough for New York to advance—barring historic wins by Brooklyn, Cleveland, and Boston.
There is a lot more that can happen (here is a solid breakdown by Kristian Winfield for the New York Daily News), but the Knicks are sitting pretty. To summarize what the Knicks must avoid if they don’t want to crash out of the IST:
- NYK are tied with MIL at 3-1 (aka MIA beats MIL)
- NYK go on to lose against CHA on Tuesday
“It’s pretty cool,” Brunson said postgame. “I’m not going to lie. It’s a really good win.” “I was just praying [Butler’s shot] didn’t go in.”
Shout-out to the mystery fan driving Brunson mad.
Also, shout-out to Immanuel Quickley and his short-circuiting buckets as the game approached the final frame helping New York stay relatively close in the score before Brunson and Barrett let loose their inner beasts.
“All of a sudden it turned into a Quickley 3 and another Quickley 3,” Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra explained after the game. “Then all of a sudden, [Miami’s lead] gets to 13—that was the biggest shift right there.
“We had an opportunity to take that thing to 25. There’s a karma to it. We were so careless finishing that quarter.”
"That's my guy. We've been working out together these past couple weeks, just encouraging each other to keep working, keep going. I appreciate him; he's like a big brother, teaching me the ropes"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) November 25, 2023
–– Immanuel Quickley on Jalen Brunsonpic.twitter.com/9RbRsqlCWL
JB and RJ might have scored the final 13 points of the Knicks, but IQ launched the 38-15 run that served New York the purpose of staying alive in the tourney.
Seven wins in nine games. Phoenix comes to the Garden next. Tip-off Sunday at 6 ET. Don’t miss it.