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Knicks 112, Heat 103: “It’s over”

Reflections on a night straight outta the ‘90s

NBA: Playoffs-Miami Heat at New York Knicks Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Pssst. Pssst. You. You looking for Ws? I got those. You tryna get high off some hope? Got that too.

For the New York Knicks didn’t just keep the season alive with their 112-103 win over the Miami Heat last night — and don’t let “just” cloud the meaningfulness of the win. These Knicks earned what they got last night; everyone who cares about this team did. A group that not only won games but appears to have successfully re-wired the franchise toward a bright and sustainable future deserved their moment in the sun. And their efforts did not feel like a sun setting. There are reasons to believe these Knicks have a better shot to come back from 3-1 down than most.

Start with the Big 3, who’ve begun to work out the kinks the past couple of games. Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett have all scored 20+ points over Games 4 and 5, combining for 76 and then 88 (on only 40 and 52 shots). Last night all three made statements with their play. Barrett picked his spots in the midrange, slipping and slicing through space while getting the shots he wanted. Most encouraging was a shot he missed: with a little over two minutes left, the Heat had cut a double-digit deficit down to two points. The Knicks’ possession was stalling, and with only a couple seconds left on the shot clock Barrett got the ball behind the arc. You may have expected RJ to launch a hopeless heave. Instead, he stayed aggressive, driving the lane and drawing enough attention to leave Isaiah Hartenstein free for the follow. The Heat never got that close again.

Hartenstein was only on the floor then because Tom Thibodeau had pulled Mitchell Robinson about three minutes earlier after the Heat went to a Hack-A-Mitch strategy. The move backfired, as Mitch made four of six free throws before Hartenstein replaced him. Kudos to Tom Thibodeau for getting outta that mini-game while he was ahead — the man may be the type who holds on five playing blackjack, but sometimes winning means quitting before the tide turns.

An efficient 24, 5 and 5 from Randle, who stumbled into the game flow before finding his peace with it and rising above. This truth is as evident when written as when witnessed: the Knicks are on a different level when Randle’s energy and activity are up. Maybe being named All-NBA Third Team, his second all-league selection in three years, reminded him of who he can be. Maybe the ankle feels better than it has in a month. Whatever it was, here’s hoping Randle eats the same meals and wears the same socks tomorrow as he did yesterday. Bam Adebayo is like bugs: he can be annoying, but when he’s all over the place he makes it hard just to live. Active Julius occupies Adebayo, leaving slivers of airspace for teammates who might otherwise find the defense suffocating. Randle’s 3 at the end of the half was the perfect bookend to the 3 he opened the game with and the perfect note to end the half on for New York.

And then there was the most beautiful sight we’ve seen at MSG in many a year.

In addition to Ciara, Brunson was captivating. And not simply because 38, 9 and 7 are big numbers, as is 48, his minutes played (Quentin Grimes also played the whole game). Nor was it just the efficiency, although making 67% of your 2s, 40% of your 3s and 83% of your 1s is something to write email text home about. No, it’s the other thing that stood out.

2023 Jalen Brunson is the greatest Knick since 1997 Patrick Ewing. Not only is he capable of getting his, he uplifts others, too. With all the focus on a terrific Miami defense centered on him, Brunson still mostly resembles himself. He has to work harder at it, but when he drives he seems to bust out a different tempo, a different time signature, a different shot each time, each of which looks to be in-rhythm — but this is a polyrhythmic dude. In chess Barrett is a rook, all clear lanes of movement forward and sideways. Randle is a knight people wish were a bishop — harder to predict, though a threat from a lot of directions.

Brunson is the king. If you play chess you might think that an insult, since the queen is the most powerful piece. But the queen can move as many spaces as she wants on any move. How many players are true queens? LeBron James, and . . . ? The king can move in any direction, but only one space at a time. But as Henry Hill says of Paulie, “Paulie might’ve moved slow, but it was only Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody.” Brunson doesn’t blaze because he doesn’t have to. That game is built to last.

The Knicks won in mostly impressive fashion, thanks to their big names and thanks to the supporting cast. Grimes provided spacing and defense; the play of the night was him defending Jimmy Butler late on an obviously injured leg and coming up with a steal. Hartenstein and Obi Toppin led an impressive bench effort on the glass. Immanuel Quickley could be back for Friday’s Game 6. Josh Hart is almost guaranteed to play better next game than he has the past two. The Heat have missed a ton of shots the past couple games. It’s reasonable to think that will stop soon, but it’s also worth noting that’s who they’ve been most of this season. Their Golden State-like bombing raids from deep in these playoffs are an anomaly compared to their prior six months of shooting.

Quoth HBK99: “It’s over.” Sure, but for whom? If it sounds like I’m talking myself into hope, I am. Last night we saw a resilience we really haven’t seen since 2000. Two years ago the Atlanta Hawks were clearly better than the Knicks. 10 years ago, the Indiana Pacers snuffed the life out of the offense of everyone who wasn’t Carmelo Anthony. In those series, death was a matter of when. Now? Sequences like the one below remind us there is no more beautiful or powerful word than “if.”