For most of the afternoon, the Knicks accomplished what needed to be done on Sunday. In the second game of a back-to-back, they were tied with the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat with just over four minutes left at the Garden.
Then Miami — off to a slow start this season — did what it wanted to do. The Heat used their experience and fortitude to outplay the Knicks when it mattered most and left town with a 109-103 victory.
The Knicks (11-14) and Heat (9-14) will match up again on Tuesday in Miami. By then, the Knicks may have Derrick Rose in uniform after they agreed to acquire the former NBA MVP from the Pistons in exchange for Dennis Smith Jr. and a second-round pick, according to a source. The trade will not be announced until the players pass their physicals.
Assuming that happens, the Knicks will welcome Rose’s veteran presence in the final minutes. It’s as if Sunday’s game was designed to show the Knicks exactly what they were missing. They were held to 44 second-half points.
"You’ve got to make plays down the stretch," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You’ve got to understand the fourth quarter’s different. The intensity’s different, the decision-making’s different, the officials will allow more to go on in terms of physicality. And so, we have to understand that part of it."
The score was tied at 94 with 4:18 left when Jimmy Butler, who was having an off afternoon, hit a jumper to give the Heat the lead for good. Butler then hit two free throws before Mitchell Robinson dunked to get the Knicks back to within two points.
But Miami hit all nine of its free throws in the fourth quarter and Tyler Herro (16 points) sank a three-pointer with 33.4 seconds left that expanded Miami’s lead to 106-99 and all but sealed the victory.
"It’s not just Jimmy," Thibodeau said. "They have Bam [Adebayo] as well. They have great shooting around him."
Miami was led by Adebayo’s 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Butler scored 17 (3-for-11 shooting, 11-for-12 from the line).
Julius Randle led the Knicks with 26 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. Reggie Bullock added 21 points, going 7-for-14 on three-pointers. Alec Burks (13 points) was the only other Knick to score in double figures. Elfrid Payton, who scored 22 and 20 points in the previous two games, had only seven. RJ Barrett was held to three points and 1-for-6 shooting in 19:13.
"It was back and forth," Randle said. "A couple possessions down the stretch was critical. They took advantage of it and won the game."
The Knicks went ahead 15-5, but the Heat led 25-23 after a quarter.
Bullock, who was averaging 8.2 points per game, scored 18 points in the first half on six three-pointers, but Miami took a 60-59 lead into halftime and expanded it to 82-77 after three quarters.
"We never got established defensively from the start of the game," Thibodeau said. "We knew it would be an energy game . . . Offensively, I liked us, especially in the first half, but defensively, we’ve got to be a lot better."