MIAMI — Tom Thibodeau finally got a look at the team he has been trying to build, an unselfish, smart and defense-minded group in which the whole outperforms the individual pieces. Unfortunately for Thibodeau, it was the Miami Heat, not his Knicks.
Led by one of Thibodeau’s long-time pupils, Jimmy Butler, the Heat dominated the Knicks from start to finish, building a 30-point lead before coasting to a 110-96 win at FTX Arena.
"Coasting'' actually would not be the proper description because the Heat did what Thibodeau is pleading for his team to do: play hard and play together. But right now the Knicks look like a disjointed mess with their leader, Julius Randle, struggling and seeming to pull away from the team at times and with no true point guard guiding them. It provided an overwhelming mismatch as the Heat defenders swarmed the Knicks from multiple angles and the Knicks seemed confused and lifeless.
Of the players whom Thibodeau has relied most heavily upon — Randle, RJ Barrett and Alec Burks — only Barrett has continued to display any semblance of steadiness. With Pat Riley in the stands still guiding the Miami franchise and Jeff Van Gundy sitting courtside broadcasting the game, Thibodeau was left to stand alone with a group that hardly mirrors the type of team he has tried to put together.
Even through an assortment of injuries and illness, Miami (31-17) has managed to make its way to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. And the Knicks (23-26), with their fifth loss in the last six games, remain in a brutal stretch of the schedule that continues on to Milwaukee on Friday.
"We got in a hole early," Thibodeau said. "It’s hard to get out of that. We got back on our heels, they put a lot of pressure on us. If you give teams like that confidence early, especially a team as good as this, you’re going to pay for it and we did.
"We just didn’t play well tonight. We got off to a slow start. Defensively, we weren’t very good and offensively we weren’t very good. So we have to take a look at the film, make our corrections and then get ready for the next game. The games keep coming. So we gotta fix it fast."
Randle and Barrett went to the bench with 2:51 left in the third quarter and never returned. Randle finished with 11 points with four turnovers. Barrett scored 17, but like the rest of his teammates, he struggled to find a way to keep up with the multiple weapons Miami employed.
Duncan Robinson scored 25 points, Butler 22, Tyler Herro 21 and P.J. Tucker 20 for the Heat. Robinson shot 7-for-11 from three-point range and Butler and Tucker totaled 14-for-17 shooting overall.
The final 15 minutes were mostly a showcase for the Knicks' bench as they carved the gap intermittently behind Obi Toppin, who had 18 points and shot 7-for-9, and even an appearance by Cam Reddish, who had played only five minutes since joining the team.
While it was the starters who got the Knicks in the hole, the bench for the most part didn't exactly turn the tide. Alec Burks was 1-for-8 and Quentin Grimes was 2-for-6.
"Doesn’t matter who you’re playing against, obviously," Evan Fournier said, "When you lose like that, you’re being that dominated, it doesn’t feel good. Nobody likes that. So yeah, there’s disappointment, but there’s frustration, a little bit of anger, a little bit of everything. So what can I say? They just smacked us in the head. That’s it."
The Knicks fell behind 9-0 and 13-2 at the start before Thibodeau called timeout. The lead was 30-16 for Miami at the end of the first quarter and it kept rising, reaching 20 with a 10-0 run in a span of 2:10 in the second quarter before the Knicks managed to cut the lead to 59-46 at the half.
But more than the score, the eye test just showed the Knicks looking slow and lost as the Heat double-teams consistently left them trapped and surrounded by defenders. Randle had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) in the first half.
Barrett had 13 points at the half, trying to match the production of Butler, who attacked him and assortment of defenders with ease.
The Heat started the second half the same way they started the first, mounting an 11-2 run, which stretched the lead to 70-48.