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Tom Thibodeau searches for answers following Game 1 loss

History is not on the Knicks’ side.

Miami Heat v New York Knicks - NBA Photo by Secuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

If the New York Knicks want to win the championship this season, they will need to make true, legitimate history. In fact, if they want to make it past the Eastern Conference semifinal and the pesky Miami Heat, they will need to do so, too.

The Knicks lost 108-101 to the Heat and with that they got this second-round series rolling... by trailing 0-1 to the no. 8 seed from the East. New York is 0-7 in all series in which they lost Game 1 at MSG. Just saying.

Game 2 is taking place on Tuesday, so Thibs & Co. better get their excrement together quickly. And honestly, as much as coach Tom Thibodeau wants to blast it through the airwaves and the microphones after every single game, “letting the game tell you what to do” is not gonna cut it.

“The game tells you what to do, so if you’re open you got to let it go,” said Thibs for the nth time this postseason. And hey, it worked against the young Cleveland Cavaliers a few days ago, but that I’m afraid won’t be the case against a stout and grown-ass team such as the Heat.

Thibs, of course, was answering a very obvious question and one that if you weren’t asking yourself after G1 then you probably didn’t pay much attention to what was happening on the court. Can the Knicks shoot—not shoot, but actually make—some threes going through this series against Miami?

No need for box-score scouring because this thing passed the eye test with gaudy grades. The Heat hoisted 39 three-pointers hitting 13 (bad). The Knicks launched 34 of them scoring 7 (awful). The difference is already sizable in terms of pure volume (five for 15 points) but it was even worse considering that Miami edged New York by 18 points on three-pointers made alone.

Go and make up for that difference with silly-dilly layups. If you can, of course, because that’s not going to be handed to the Knicks, either. The Heat not only beat New York within the hardwood boundaries but also from the sidelines. Spo 1, Thibs 0.

“I planned both ways. I planned with him going, and planned if he didn’t go,” Thibodeau said after the game with regard to Julius Randle’s injury. “You live with it and get ready with what you have—and we have more than enough.” Welp.

The Knicks started strong building a 12-point lead midway through the second quarter that was looking precious then and there. Miami had fired bomb after bomb through the first quarter and change, missing more than those the Heat men were hitting. It was expected for Miami to regress a bit from their ridiculous percentages against the Bucks, and it was happening.

All was going according to plan—in fact, everything was going even better than expected with a very dull Jimmy Butler not really factoring that much through the first half of play given his standards—until it didn’t.

Butler finished the game with a rolled ankle and a 25-point, 11-rebound double-double. Gabe Vincent of all men dumped 20 points on a 5-of-12 three-point day.

But it was a couple of veterans who hurt New York the most. Kevin Love starting at the four and bagging a 9-5-4 line to go with Kyle Lowry’s come-of-age 18-5-6-1-4 (yes, that’s four blocks) through 30 minutes played coming off the pine.

Thibs stuck to deploying Josh Hart on defense to try and stop Jimmy Butler. That meant 1) putting Hart in the starting lineup and 2) limiting Quentin Grimes (returning from injury, it must be said) to just 10 minutes played.

“The thing about Butler is his size, too. Size is a big thing,” Thibodeau said about using Hart for a team-high 43 minutes and assigning him to Jimmy Buckets.

Thibs also thinks that the Knicks ”didn’t close the second quarter well,” and he said after the game that in the third quarter, his team “didn’t protect the basket for the first few minutes,” though he thinks the Knicks did enough and “fought back to make it a one-possession game” after crumbling in the final stanza.

That grand finale, of course, had a little bit of everything to blame this loss on Thibs.

For one, he sat starter Obi Toppin for most of the fourth quarter (a little under 10 left on the clock when he hit the bench). “I thought he played well, very well,” said Thibodeau when asked about the forward’s outing.

Toppin finished the game with 18 points and eight rebounds, while also becoming the only Knickerbocker with more than one three-pointer made through the game (4-of-11).

“In my head, I thought I was starting the whole time,” said Topping after his first post-season start with the Knicks. He also said after the game that he “felt good” about starting, but right after that, he revealed that he was “not at all” surprised about Thibs sitting him through the final nine-plus minutes of play.

The most ridiculous words about this whole decision came out of Thibs’ mouth, though.

“Just matching up the way they were,” reasoned Thibodeau when asked about his game-closing lineup. The Heat only made two (very obvious) changes at the start of Q4: Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson in, Max Strus and Cozy Zeller out. They didn’t make another change between that point and Toppin’s benching, and after that happened they only flipped a couple of wings sitting Robinson in favor of Caleb Martin. Hhmmm...

For two, Thibs also sat Quentin Grimes—the returning guard played only 10 minutes—and with that, the Knicks left on the bench their lone two long-range shooting threats.

Jalen Brunson went 0-7, RJ Barrett put up 1-5, and Quickley shot 1-4 beyond the arc. Yes, Grimes also scored just one of his three-point attempts, but we know he’s a capable snipper. Miami gave Toppin room (he shot 10+ 3PA only twice before this season) and while he only hit four of them, at least the huge volume made up for the lack of accuracy.

The Heat clogged the paint. The Knicks didn’t find a way to operate inside after scoring 40 points (20-24) in the paint in the first half alone—the highest postseason paint-points total in a half of any Knicks team in the last quarter-century—and that was it for New York.

“That number jumped out at halftime,” Spoelstra said after the game, speaking about the 40 points his team allowed inside.

With the paint protected and the Knicks limited to just 22 second-half points inside, New York was never closer than three points (97-94) in the score to Miami and from the 4:53-minute mark through the end of the game—pretty much covering all of the time Jimmy Butler spent on the court playing on one leg—the Heat were good to outscore the Knicks 11-7.

That was close, yes, but that also was an eleven-to-seven margin in a five-minute span of a game in which there were two teams—only, one was boasting five players led by a nutso and the other was featuring four men and a half led by a basketball sensei.