The New York Knicks evened their second-round series 1-1 with a 111-105 comeback over the Miami Heat, a perfectly circuitous win that kept repeating like a wave: the Knicks look good/the Heat storm back/the Knicks look good/the Heat storm back. Before the game, someone might have asked you “Would you sacrifice a day/week/month/year off the end of your life for the Knicks to keep winning?” Which is of course a trick question. Win or lose, Knicks/Heat takes years off your life.
That’s because the Heat are the NBA’s Hydra, a monster that seems impossible to kill; for every player they lose to injury, two more step up to, well, step up. Jimmy Butler, a pantheon postseason player, had to sit out after badly rolling his ankle late in Game 1. The Knicks welcomed back Julius Randle, who’d missed Sunday’s game after re-injuring his ankle late in the Cleveland series. Logic favored our heroes. Logic’s got nothing on the Hydra, especially when you give it space.
The Caleb triple is good— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) May 2, 2023
Game 2 underway on TNT pic.twitter.com/SJw7UYtJ14
Hercules struggled mightily to conquer the beast. Even in the halfcourt, contest one scoring threat and another takes its place.
Halftime saw the Heat leading despite RJ Barrett and Randle going off for 19 and 18, respectively. A growing unease spreading ‘round the Garden, a stink bomb of an epiphany: the Heat would not capitulate. If the Knicks were going to make this a series, they were gonna have to gangsta the win, just take it. Hercules had a club. The Knicks had Jalen Brunson.
Brunson scored 13 in the third, outscoring Max Strust that quarter by two, the margin by which the Knicks won the frame. They entered the fourth down by one. Brunson continued to put up points, but the Heat kept winning. Of all the Hydra’s heads, one is immortal. The Heat seem to take turns with who gets to be that head from night to night. In the playoffs, it’s usually Butler. Late last night, it was Gabe Vincent, who exploded for 13 points on only seven shot attempts in the fourth. Mounts Randle and Barrett had gone dormant scoring after halftime. So many moments felt like “that” moment, the one when you realize the battle is lost.
Often forgotten is that Hercules (Heracles, at the time) didn’t fight the Hydra alone. His nephew was there, too, kid by the name of Iolaus. After Hercules cut off a head, Iolaus burned the wound, ensuring there’d be no new heads. That kid had heart. The Knicks had Josh Hart and Isaiah Hartenstein, outrebounding the Heat all on their own in the final frame and pitching a shutout on the defensive glass — Miami did not have a single offensive rebound in the fourth. Hartenstein was a whirling dervish keeping possessions alive; Hart finished one assist shy of a triple-double, hitting a game-tying 3 midway through the quarter and another 3 with 98 seconds left to put the Knicks up four.
The Knicks once again owned the glass on both ends, enabling them to get back to their favorite math: after being outscored by 18 from deep Sunday, the margin was only three points in Game 2; with the teams tied on 2-pointers, separation came at the free throw line, nearly doubling the Heat’s attempts 30-17. New York was third this season in free throw attempts per game; Miami was 19th. They’re gonna wanna keep that gap going if they’re gonna win this series.
What a wonderful dependent clause: “if they’re gonna win this series.” There are dimensions very near to our own where Knicks fans woke today in groggy resentment, knowing the series — and season — are on death row; being down 2-0 with three of four games in Miami is no way to go through life. Instead, there’s still life to be lived, and while three days off will undoubtedly aid Butler’s recovery, it’s also more time for Randle to heal up — and while Caesar did cool in the second half from deep, he also led the team with 12 rebounds and eight dimes.
Quoth normanhathaway: “I might be dead.” Same. Maybe we’re all dead. But if we are, and the Knicks keep winning, maybe being dead’s not so bad. You know who couldn’t die? The Hydra. To finish it once and for all, Hercules cut off its last, immortal head and buried it under a big rock. Years later, after Hercules died, he ascended to godhood. I think this morning most of us would settle for the Knicks ascending to a 2-2 split by the time the fight returns to MSG.