Knicks aim to raise their intensity against Heat in Game 4
MIAMI — The Knicks expected a desperate Heat squad in Game 3 on Saturday, a team coming off a loss and returning home motivated to play with fire.
But they didn’t have an answer as to why they would come into an Eastern Conference semifinal playoff game, sit back and take the punch.
Now there is a hopeful confidence that coming off their own humbling defeat, the Knicks can conjure up that intensity this time.
“They’re at home and they just lost. They were sitting a couple days on a loss,” RJ Barrett said. “So you know, I expected them to kind of play that way. But I mean, sometimes that happens. It happens in the playoffs. It’s been happening. It’s not the end of the world. We’ve just got to understand the intensity of this and just match it and bring it to them next game.”
While the Knicks are not a team loaded with playoff experience, it’s hard to imagine that this lesson needed to be learned and hard to understand how there could be such a clear difference in the teams’ aggressiveness and effort.
The 105-86 loss doesn’t even reflect how one-sided this game was. The Knicks were on their heels at the start, and after a three-pointer to start the second quarter gave Miami an 11-point lead, the Knicks never got their deficit to single-digits — never made a run to create even an illusion that they had a chance.
Coming off their Game 2 loss, the Heat may have gotten a boost from the home crowd, although there were plenty of Knicks fans — frustrated Knicks fans — at the Kaseya Center. And Miami certainly got a boost from the return of Jimmy Butler, who suffered a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 1 and sat out Game 2.
But the explanations for why the Heat would rise to the occasion don’t disclose why the Knicks, knowing it was coming, didn’t do something about it.
“I think that’s sort of the nature of the beast this time of year,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Teams that lose the previous game usually come out with a lot of intensity. They’re home. So we knew that would happen. Jimmy Butler was very aggressive to start the game. And we got into a hole early. They played from a lead. So we have to be a lot more aggressive.”
While a playoff series can seem like a chess match of moves and counters, and while Thibodeau and Miami’s Erik Spoelstra are experienced grandmasters, the difference Saturday seemed more in effort than in strategy. The Heat did make some tweaks, putting Butler on Barrett early and attacking Jalen Brunson on defense, but the Knicks seemed a step slow in everything they did.
Thibodeau has inserted Josh Hart into the starting lineup — a move made when Quentin Grimes was hurt in the opening-round series against Cleveland — and kept him there to match up with Butler. In Game 3, Butler was 3-for-6 with two assists with Hart as the primary defender and 0-for-3 with no assists in the brief time Grimes was the primary defender on him.
A return to the starting lineup for Grimes could be on the table, but the Knicks’ rotation could change because Immanuel Quickley is listed as doubtful with a sprained left ankle.
“Everything is on the table,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll see how it unfolds.”
It is unlikely, even if he wants to keep his options open, that Thibodeau would insert Evan Fournier or Derrick Rose, players who haven’t appeared in a meaningful game in months. So maybe it’s more likely that the Knicks will turn to the simplest solution — play harder.
“I think we’re confident,” Julius Randle said. “It’s just, we got to execute. Come out with a certain level of aggression, physicality, and find a way to win a game. It’s not going to be easy.
“ . . . You take the emotions out of it. You learn from the game before. This is not one you can typically just flush away. You learn from the game before what you can do better. Mentally prepare for, do what you got to do to prepare for it.
“But this is something we’ve been doing our whole lives. So one game is not going to determine how we feel for the next game or what we think the future’s going to be. Every game is different and we have to treat it as such. And do our best to prepare for each game.”