Unable to overcome determined Heat, Knicks lose in Miami
MIAMI — Julius Randle never had the chance to meet Willis Reed, but he knows the legacy that Reed forged in New York. And he knows the greatness of Reed, who died Tuesday, earned him that place. And the reason fans still speak in reverential tones of the player whose jersey hangs in the rafters at Madison Square Garden is because his heroics led the Knicks to the only two championships in franchise history.
And while Randle has begun to pile up individual accomplishments in his four seasons with the Knicks, it will take something that no one has done since Reed — win. While the Knicks have taken baby steps forward they have a long way to go before a championship parade comes to New York.
In another game that felt like a playoff contest — a throwback game with body blows being thrown, players scattered about the floor and Randle and Jimmy Butler having to be separated at one point in the final minutes — the Knicks fell short and dropped a 127-120 decision to the Heat at Miami-Dade Arena.
The Knicks have allowed opponents to score 140 and 127 points in back-to-back games.
Randle, who had joined Reed as one of the few players in Knicks history with more than 50 points in a game with his 57-point effort Monday, was held to just 15 points on 7-for-16 shooting. The Knicks picked up the slack with RJ Barrett scoring 26 points, Jalen Brunson adding 25 and Quentin Grimes chipping in 22. But the Knicks had no answer for Butler, who finished with 35 points. Tyler Herro scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth.
In the end there was frustration, mostly with the officials, but with themselves, too. “I mean, anytime I take that much contact and I shoot one free throw for the game,” Randle said, “That pretty much tells the story.”
“I want to look at the fouls because I think that that was a big part of this game,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So some of them are marginal but I want to make sure that I’m seeing what I’m seeing.”
In the morning, Randle talked about the legacy and impact Reed has had on the franchise, on the city and on the players on the Knicks’ roster. He was asked if it would mean something to win this game in the wake of Reed’s passing.
“I think it would mean a lot,” Randle said. “He’s a legend, not just for the league, but specifically here in New York, for our team. So I think it would mean a lot for him and his family. We’ll do our best.”
The Knicks could take inspiration from talk of Reed and memories of the championship seasons, but on this night they were playing a team that was running on desperation, not inspiration. Miami is in a late-season run to avoid the play-in tournament and ascend into the top six in the East.
The Heat entered the game in seventh place three games behind the Knicks, but with the win they cut that to two, and the teams will meet again next week at the Garden. If the Heat win both games — essentially cutting the gap to one game they’d need to make up just that one since they will likely hold the second tiebreaker by virtue of winning their division.
If the Knicks were going to rely on Randle, he thought he was ready for it. After the 57-point effort Monday seemed to push him to exhaustion, he said, as he has been every night this season, ready. “I just think it goes to those habits we talked about,” Randle said. “You see I’m carrying my water everywhere. I got nine hours of sleep last night, so last night I was actually pretty tired,” he said laughing.
“I do have kids, but they were somewhere doing something. But nine hours, yeah, so it goes to those habits, man. Like I said, I’ve told you all year, I’ve put a lot into my body, making sure that I’m prepared and by the grace of God, I’ve been able to be out there.”
Randle had only nine points in the first half and did not score in the third quarter until he connected on a short jumper with 49.9 seconds left and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but the Knicks chased down the loose ball. Randle drove to the rim, but Bam Adebayo swatted the shot out of bounds. Still, Brunson scored to close the gap to 90-86.
Trailing by six heading into the fourth quarter the Knicks finally pulled ahead on a Mitchell Robinson jam of a Josh Hart lob with 9:35 to play. But after a back-and-forth stretch the Knicks trailed 105-102 with 5:33 left.
But the Heat buried three three-point field goals to stretch the lead to 114-102. Miami would hit 6 of 7 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter. “You’ve got to be mentally tough when things aren’t going our way,” Brunson said. “It’s going to be loud in the playoffs. If we want to be the team that we want to be we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be more mentally tough. I’ve got to be more mentally tough.”