Jimmy Butler had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and the No. 8-seeded Miami Heat kept rolling after barely reaching the postseason, beating the New York Knicks 108-101 on Sunday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Gabe Vincent scored 20 points for the Heat, who became the sixth No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 when they toppled Milwaukee in the first round and continue to look nothing like a team that needed to win a play-in game just to get the final postseason berth in the East.
They averaged 124 points in that series behind Butler’s 37.6 per game, but they pulled this one out with old-fashioned defense and rebounding that has always worked so well before for them at this time of year.
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RJ Barrett scored 26 points and Jalen Brunson had 25 for the fifth-seeded Knicks, who are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They started strong and led most of the first half, but the Heat eventually got the Madison Square Garden crowd quieter and quieter as the game went on.
Game 2 is Tuesday night.
The Knicks were without All-Star forward Julius Randle because of a sprained left ankle and they surely missed him when the transition points dried up and it became a halfcourt game.
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They could’ve used his shooting on a day they went 7 for 34 behind the arc, missing a chance to break open the game early and then hindering any chances of coming back.
The Heat fell behind by 12 points in the second quarter, but that wasn’t going to faze a team that eliminated deficits of 15 and then 16 points in the last two games against Milwaukee. They gradually narrowed the deficit before halftime, blew by the Knicks with a 21-5 run in the third quarter and pulled away to a double-digit lead in the fourth.
They did it without needing the type of huge performances Butler delivered in the first round, when he scored 56 and 42 points in the final two games. He did plenty of other things they needed, including remaining in the game after an ankle injury left him limping to the free throw line with 5:05 to play.
He gave the Heat a good start in a renewal of what was once a fierce rivalry, with the teams meeting four straight years from 1997-2000. The Heat won the last three of those but have work to do if they’re going to take this one.
Getting Randle back would be a good start. He reinjured his ankle in Game 5 against Cleveland after missing the final five games of the regular season and hadn’t done much since the Knicks returned to practice. He went through a workout before the game, but the Knicks ruled him out about 45 minutes before the start.
The Knicks tore off a 22-6 run to finish the first quarter and take a 32-21 lead. Six straight points pushed it to a 12-point advantage, and the Knicks kept the margin around double digits most of the second quarter, with the margin still 10 with under 2 minutes to play. But the Heat closed strong and cut it to 55-50 at the break.
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New York led 61-53 early in the third before Kevin Love converted a three-point play to trigger a 21-5 spurt by Miami. He added a 3-pointer during it, but his biggest contribution was with his outlet passing. With new Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers sitting courtside, Love fired three long passes for scores, with Butler’s basket on the last one capping the run and giving the Heat a 74-66 lead.
Heat: Kyle Lowry scored 18 points. Bam Adebayo had 16.
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Knicks: Randle was originally hurt against the Heat in a victory at MSG on March 29. Earlier that month, he capped a 43-point performance with a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds remaining in a 122-120 win at Miami. … Quentin Grimes had four points off the bench after missing the final two games against Cleveland with a bruised right shoulder. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau opted to keep Josh Hart in the starting lineup.