Staying Alive, Knicks Force Game 6

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

The Knicks booked another trip to South Beach.

After nearly blowing a 19-point lead, the Knicks avoided elimination as they held on for a 112-103 win over the Miami Heat in game five of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series at Madison Square Garden last night. The Heat now leads the series three games to two with game six set for Miami on Friday night.

You gotta play for 48 minutes. We knew they would make a run,” Coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Jalen Brunson scored 38 points with 9 rebounds and 7 assists and played the entire 48 minutes. Quentin Grimes also played the entire game and both were exhausted but gutted it out in the final minutes.

There’s nothing really to celebrate. We obviously won one and we get to see another day,” Brunson said. “This was great but we have to get one down there.”

Brunson and Grimes are the first Knicks’ duo to each play 48 minutes in a playoff game since 1972. (Walt Frazier and Jerry Lucas)

Brunson said there was no pre game discussion with Coach Tom Thibodeau about playing the entire game. “Nothing was said at all. Whatever it takes,” Brunson said. If he [Brunson] needed a blow, he would’ve told me,” Thibodeau said. “This time of the year, you don’t see guys get big minutes.”

R.J. Barrett scored 26 points with seven rebounds and was 7 for 8 from the free throw line. Despite taking an elbow in the eye from Miami’s Bam Adebayo in the first quarter, Julius Randle had 24 pts, five rebounds and five assists.

First quarter, after that I couldn’t really see anything but seeing the guys go out and compete the way they did, energized me and started to feel a little better after that,” said Randle.

Jimmy Butler led Miami with 19 points while Adebayo added 18 points with 8 rebounds.

The Knicks were better on the boards as they held a 50-34 advantage, including a 14-11 edge in offensive rebounds.

Those were the good numbers. The bad numbers included 19 turnovers (Brunson, Barrett and Randle combined for 12) that led to 29 points and literally kept Miami in a game where the Knicks should’ve been able to breathe a little easier down the stretch.

The Knicks took control of the game in the third quarter.

An 11-0 run gave the Knicks a 73-54 lead midway through the third quarter but turnovers allowed Miami to cut the lead to 84-74 after three.

Thibodeau took out Randle and Barrett and inserted Obi Toppin and Josh Hart to start the fourth quarter. Miami went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 92-88 with 8:00 minutes left, but Brunson hit a huge three pointer to make it a seven point game. Hart was in early foul trouble and logged only nine minutes off the bench and was once again a non factor.

Barrett and Randle returned but the Heat just wouldn’t go away thanks to the production they were getting from their bench that outscored the Knicks’ bench, 42-8. Miami’s Duncan Robinson was hot off that bench and made his 3rd-three pointer in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 100-96 with 4:30 minutes left.

At this point, Miami began to purposely foul Mitchell Robinson to send the poor free throw shooter to the line. Robinson was asked what his reaction was to being purposely fouled. “I’m knocking these down,” he said.

Robinson made 4 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter to stymie the Heat’s strategy. When he made two of two to give the Knicks a 100-93 lead, the sellout crowd roared its approval. “Felt great,” he said of the ovation.

Thibodeau substituted Isaiah Hartenstein in an offense/defense switch and it paid off in a key sequence that helped the Knicks secure the win.

With the Knicks lead trimmed to two, Barrett drove to the hoop for a short bank shot that bounced off the rim. Hartenstein cleaned up the offensive rebound for a putback dunk that gave the Knicks a 105-101 lead with 2:30 minutes left.

Grimes made an incredible defensive play late in the fourth quarter after he was injured. After Barrett made two free throws to give the Knicks a 107-101 lead, Grimes hurt his leg playing defense but remained on the floor and was able to steal the ball from Butler. “It’s the playoffs. You gotta do whatever you can to win,” said Grimes. “It’s what you’re built for, it’s what you watch as a kid.””

Barrett made four huge free throws in the final two minutes. His last two made it a 109-103 lead with less than a minute left, but Miami missed their final three, three point attempts and the Knicks were able to escape with a must win.

The Knicks scored 14 points in the first quarter but things turned around in the second quarter as they went on an 18-2 run to start the second quarter to outscore the Heat, 36-23 for a 50-47 half time lead.

Thibodeau said the early foul troubles led to playing Brunson and Grimes the whole way. “In the first quarter, it didn’t go our way in terms of the way we had calls go against us,” Thibodeau said. “Initially, we [were] planning on having Jalen and Quentin come out, but the way the game unfolded, the way we were in foul trouble, I knew we couldn’t do that.”

Despite being tired, Brunson still made some clutch plays down the stretch. Thibodeau was impressed by his point guard’s play.

What can you say about the guy, he’s just incredible. All around player, great leader, great toughness, mental toughness, physical toughness. Ability to think on his feet, ability to lead, ability to connect with people. Bring the best out of people. That’s what makes him special, play after play,” said Thibodeau.

Brunson spent his energy on the offensive end while Grimes had to guard Butler. “Jimmy’s gonna make you work and you gotta make him work and I thought he [Grimes] did as good a job as you could do,” Thibodeau said.

The series and the pressure shifts to Miami for game six.

In their history, the Knicks have never won a series when they’ve lost the first game at home and they’ve never rebounded from a three games to one deficit. They get a chance to start rewriting that history on Friday night.

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