The Miami Heat went on the road and took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals 108-101 over the New York Knicks. It was a tough afternoon for the Knicks, who were without one of their best players in Julius Randle. Here are my main takeaways from the first game of this series.
1. Knicks Failed to Connect on Their Good Looks From Three
The Knicks were not a great three-point shooting team in the regular season, and that carried over into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They shot 7-for-34 (20.6 percent) from three, despite many of their looks being open or lightly contested. Jalen Brunson struggled more than anyone else, going 0-for-7 from three. Obi Toppin was the only player to make multiple threes, shooting 4-for-11 from long distance.
New York should not shoot as poorly as they did in the opening game of the series, considering how many of their opportunities were good looks. The Heat collapsed on Brunson once he got inside the paint, leaving two or three Knicks open on the perimeter. That space will continue to be there, as Miami will live with RJ Barrett, Josh Hart and Toppin beating them from the outside. The question is, will the Knicks be able to make those shots at a higher percentage?
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra may not have used it as much as he could, but the zone was effective when they put it in place. The length of the Heat backcourt caused problems for their guards, forcing some quick shots and careless turnovers. If the Knicks continue to struggle shooting the basketball, Miami may switch up their defense a bit more often. Tuesday will be a big test for New York, and they need to be more efficient if they want to even up the series.
2. The Combination Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry Thrives
Jimmy Butler came into this second round matchup as the main threat for the Heat. While he finished the contest with a team-high 25 points, their two point guards hit some critical shots down the stretch. Gabe Vincent and Kyle Lowry combined for 38 points on 11-for-28 shooting and 8-for-18 shooting from three. Those two stepped up in a big way, providing consistent scoring alongside the shot-making ability of Butler.
Vincent gave the Heat a huge lift to start the game, hitting two threes on his way to eight first quarter points. The 26-year-old finished the first half with 14 points, shooting 4-for-10 from the field and 3-for-8 from three. Lowry played a critical role in Miami’s second half comeback, going for nine points in the fourth quarter alone. The veteran got to the line six times, showing his ability to bait the opposition into creating contact. Lowry shot 3-for-7 from the field and 5-for-6 from the line in the fourth.
The Knicks will continue to focus on containing Butler, with the hopes that the rest of the team will struggle to score. It may not be them in every game, but Vincent and Lowry could continue to be x-factors in this series. Both of them are going to have expanded roles, especially with Tyler Herro out of this entire round with a broken hand.
3. New York Needs Julius Randle Back for Game 2
Julius Randle missed Game 1 against the Heat with a sprained left ankle, and his absence was certainly felt. The Knicks did not have the size and physicality to match Miami on the interior, even with Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein. Obi Toppin stepped into the starting five and gave his team a spark, finishing with 18 points on 7-for-15 shooting, 4-for-11 shooting from three and eight rebounds. While his individual numbers were impressive, he could not impose his will as much as Randle would have.
The Knicks would not be in this position without Randle, despite what some may say about his struggles in the playoffs. Yes, he did not play at his best in their first-round win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the All-Star forward brings energy and hustle that cannot be matched when he is right. Randle may not be 100 percent for the remainder of the postseason, but with the Knicks already down 1-0 in this series, it would be a surprise if he did not return for Game 2 at Madison Square Garden.
Randle was a dominant force in the Knicks’ four regular season matchups with the Heat, averaging 21 points and 7.5 rebounds. The 28-year-old had one of his biggest moments of the season down in Miami on Mar. 3, hitting a game-winning three-pointer over Tyler Herro in a 120-119 victory. If the Knicks want any chance of getting back into the series, they need Randle back on the floor. Without him, the task of beating a well-coached Heat team becomes a far more difficult task.