Jalen Brunson did all he could with a 41-point effort, but turned the ball over with 16 seconds remaining and his Knicks down by two points. The Heat won Game 6 96-92 and will face either the Celtics or 76ers in the Conference Finals.
New York performed well in the first quarter, but stumbled the rest of the way. Brunson got next to no support from his teammates and a mere 12 team turnovers proved too costly. It doesn’t even matter that the Knicks were without shooter Immanuel Quickley again. Some hard decisions need to be made this offseason and next year’s team could look a bit different.
Welcome to Mi-Bam-I. An elimination game in Miami sounds like a recipe for an explosive Jimmy Butler game, except it wasn’t. Butler broke and battered his way to 24 points and eight rebounds, but his night was overshadowed by Bam Adebayo. Miami’s prolific center finished with 23 points and nine rebounds and couldn’t be covered all evening.
Independent of their shooting woes, a big reason the Knicks lost was because they couldn’t contain Adebayo. Miami outscored New York in the paint 38-20 as Mitchell Robinson was practically a non-factor.
Miami was in the zone. As in, Miami saw the Knicks leading 31-24 after the first quarter and immediately switched to an impenetrable zone defense. The Heat outscored New York 27-19 in the second and limited the Knicks’ offense to Brunson and not much else. All other Knicks starters shot 5 for 32 from the field, including RJ Barrett’s forgettable 1 for 10 night.
This has been a consistent problem for the Knicks under Tom Thibodeau. Take away the paint, and the offense almost always crumbles. The Knicks’ defense is actually like the Yankees’ pitching staff in its own way. It’s strong enough to keep the team competitive as a whole, but not enough to compensate for the offense’s limitations.
Learning how to fight past this defense will be crucial in the Knicks’ next phase of development.
Where’s Randle? Julius Randle followed his strong effort in Game 5 with another absolute dud in Game 6. He finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, but shot 3 of 14 from the field. Miami’s zone defense didn’t help him, but Randle is big enough that he should have bullied his way inside more.
Sprained ankle or no sprained ankle, Julius Randle still largely vanished in the playoffs this year. Brunson cannot win games by himself and needs a consistent go-to player in important games. Randle, meanwhile, has two years left on his contract and making less than $30 million a year. It might be time to sell high on him and hope a team is willing to trade back a young up-and-comer, first-round picks, or both.