That was a brutal Game 1 loss. To simplify things, if the Knicks would have hit three to four more threes, this could have gone down to the wire, maybe even in the Knicks' favor. Instead, the Knicks were 7-24 for three, equaling 20.6%. That’s a disgusting stat for a team at home trying to strike first blood. Other than the three-point shooting, the Knicks played a pretty good game. Immanuel Quckley and Quentin Grimes were still absent from the bright lights. But RJ Barrett balled out for 26 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. Jalen Brunson led the way with 25 points and seven assists, while Mitchell Robinson pulled down 14 boards.
So what the hell happened? As I mentioned in my preview for Game 1, Eric Spoelstra is the best coach in the Eastern Conference, perhaps the league. He made excellent in-game adjustments from the first half, where the Knicks were rolling, to the second. During the first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Tom Thibodeau played a lot of small-to-small ball screens to ensure players with on-ball ability could make quick playmaking or scoring decisions in the mid-range.
One of the key changes Spoelstra made was having his primary wing players, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, and Max Strus, play drop coverage on the Knicks when they switched ball screens, crowded the lane and cut off their penetration. As a result, the Heat dared the Knicks to shoot from the perimeter, giving them wide-open opportunities. The game plan worked, as no Knick shot better than 36.4% from three.
The Knicks lack efficient three-point shooters or even volume shooters with Julius Randle injured. The Heat only made 13 threes on 33% shooting. That’s also a horrible metric, but somehow the Knicks were even worse. The Knicks went 2-15 on “open threes” and 4-16 on “wide open threes.” The Heat’s zone and strategy to collapse the paint worked. The Knicks just need to shoot better, it’s as simple as that. The effort was there on defense. Barrett and Brunson both played well up until the fourth quarter. The Knicks need to get more out of their bench and hit their damn threes to avoid dropping the first two games at home.
The three best players in this series, Randle, Brunson, and Jimmy Butler, are all “questionable” concerning playing tonight. The seriousness of this game for both teams necessitates all three play. If both Brunson and Randle sit, Knicks will lose. Quickley has been too disappointing for the Knicks to rally behind the other guys. They need all hands on deck to beat a heat team as smart as they are tough.
The Knicks must win this game. Repeat, they MUST win this game—Knicks by less than five.