The Knicks, currently down 2-1 in their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup against the Heat, face a must-win game this evening down in South Beach.
Top to bottom, the New York Knicks looked lifeless in their Game 3 loss on Saturday to the Miami Heat, and were completely outplayed and outcoached, with Miami undermanned and shooting an abysmal 38.9% from the field. Morale is low right now across Knicks land, as the underdog, and less talented Heat team seem to be controlling this series. With Jimmy Butler healthy, there is a decent chance Miami would be up 3-0 in this series, with the Knicks’ only win being in Game 2 while Butler sidelined with an ankle injury.
Fortunately for New York, they have a chance to completely shift the momentum back in their favor with a win tonight in Game 4. The Knicks’ resilience and grit that they’ve displayed all season will be ever so important, if they want this series back in the Big Apple tied at 2.
Jimmy Butler, despite not getting as much recognition as other stars in this league, is an absolute baller, who elevates his already great play to another level in the postseason. Butler has averaged 34.4 points per game in these playoffs on 56.4% from the field, per ESPN Stats. The 33-year-old has put this team on his back and has taken the life out of the Knicks on many occasions this series on both ends, all while on a hobbled ankle. Butler is a galvanizing and tide-turning player, so if they Knicks want to even this series up, they cannot let this man get in his groove. We saw him terrorize the more talented Bucks, and he is more than capable of doing the same to the ‘Bockers.
The way the Knicks slow down Butler is to match the physicality he plays with. Butler does a vast majority of his work inside the arc, making zero three’s in this series thus far, so there will need to be an increased emphasis on mid-range and paint defense from the Knicks in order to slow him down.
A group effort of R.J. Barrett, Julius Randle, Josh Hart, Quentin Grimes, Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson will be essential tonight in keeping Butler in check by making life difficult with contests, blocks and maybe some light hand checks to try and fluster him a bit. Not one single Knick has been effective enough to stop JB, but expect Thibs to try and just keep throwing bodies at him to keep him at bay. Sure, you might see some foul trouble from some guys early, but the depth of this team will come into play tonight for New York, as we are in desperation territory to slow down Butler and the Heat.
Speaking of guys with hobbled ankles, Immanuel Quickley is listed as doubtful this evening with a sprained left ankle. To much of a surprise, IQ has been pretty awful this postseason, averaging only nine points per game on 34.8% from the field, both significantly below his regular season averages. Quickley really turned a corner this season and displayed clutch-time greatness and excellent guard play off the bench to complement Jalen Brunson. The 23-year-old has unfortunately not been able to find his groove this series and has been outplayed by Heat role players Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, which is quite a shock.
IQ’s absence will cause Tom Thibodeau to adjust the rotation and disperse minutes to guys like Miles McBride or even Derrick Rose to man the backup point guard duties. Nobody knows what to expect from these two, as they have collected many DNP’s or limited minutes this postseason, but will be relied upon to push the Knicks over the hump in a likely close contest this evening.
D-Rose provides veteran leadership, but physically is what he is at this point and the chances of him truly changing the outcome of tonight’s game is unlikely. The focus will likely be more so on McBride, who is a capable perimeter defender and shot maker who has not got much opportunity recently.
It’s hard to imagine McBride being worse than IQ has been, but to me, he is the x-factor in tonight’s game if Thibs decides to give him some burn. McBride if he plays, I envision will be instrumental in keeping Vincent, Strus and other Heat secondary players at bay and could swing the game in the Knicks favor with a burst of energy off the bench and some momentum shifting buckets or steals. Deuce’s physicality is something I expect to be paramount this evening and could be a secret weapon in evening up the series.
Tip off this evening is at 7:30 EST on TNT.