Jalen Brunson #11 of the Knicks looks on during game six...

Jalen Brunson #11 of the Knicks looks on during game six of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in the 2023 NBA Playoffs against the Miami Heat at Kaseya Center on May 12, 2023 in Miami. Credit: Getty Images

MIAMI — Like generations of New Yorkers before them, the Knicks came to Miami and retired.

Another heroic effort by Jalen Brunson wasn’t enough to save the Knicks from the fact that the rest of his teammates couldn’t get anything working on offense. As a result, the Miami Heat will advance to the Eastern Conference finals after beating the Knicks, 96-92, to win their second-round series, 4-2.

What happened in this game will be dissected until next October, but the gist of the matter is that Brunson’s 41 points weren’t enough. They couldn’t make up for the fact that while he made 14 field goals, the rest of the team made just 13.

If you are a glass-is-half-full person, you can look at these playoffs and realize that the Knicks have a tough as nails point guard who can lead them for years to come. If you aren’t, you have to wonder just how much this team can depend on the rest of the starters.

RJ Barrett shot 1-for-10. Julius Randle was 3-for-14. Mitchell Robinson was 0-for-2. And Quentin Grimes was 1-for-6. The Knicks did not score a field goal in the first six minutes of the final quarter, having wasted a 14-point first-quarter lead.

“It can go either way,” Brunson said when asked if he viewed bowing out in the second round as a failure. “It depends on how you view it. We did a lot of great things this season. We honestly wanted to keep playing and had the opportunity. It stings a little bit. It’s definitely a learning experience, but If you don’t win, you lose.”

The Knicks had to know when their bus pulled into Kaseya Center that there was a pretty slender chance that they would be able to survive a second straight elimination game. The odds weren’t good. Only 13 teams have ever managed to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win any series, a mere 4.7% success rate. What’s more, the Heat had been the stronger team throughout the series, especially at home where in the two previous games, they trailed by a combined 24 seconds.

Still, it was a horribly painful way for it to all end, considering that Brunson couldn’t have given more. It marked the third straight game in which he had 30 or more points. His 41 points were the most by a Knicks point guard in a playoff game.

These Knicks love to play with their backs against the wall, love to prove wrong those who say they can’t do it.

“Maximum effort,” Mitchell Robinson said when asked what it was going to take for his team to force a Game 7.

Maximum effort is what the Knicks gave from the opening tip. After watching Jimmy Butler score a playoff-low 19 points in the Knicks' Game 5 win, the Heat vowed that this game would mark the return of Playoff Jimmy. The only way the Knicks could survive a motivated Butler was to produce a Playoff Jalen, Playoff Julius and Playoff RJ.

And, in the early going, that’s what they had. Brunson, Randle and Barrett combined for 23 points in the first nine minutes as the Knicks took a 14-point lead, forcing Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to call two timeouts in the first 9:20.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau vowed after playing Brunson all 48 minutes in Game 5 that he wouldn’t be reluctant to do it again. He probably should have as the Knicks' second team struggled in the second quarter, especially for the short period that both Randle and Brunson were on the bench.

The Knicks went from having a 31-24 lead at the start of the quarter to trailing 51-50, at the half. During the 2:44 that Brunson was not on the floor, the Heat went on a 7-0 run to take their first lead since the initial minutes of the half.

Brunson never left the floor again. More than anyone on the court, Brunson understood the pressure of playing in an elimination game. On the way to winning two national titles at Villanova, he went 13-1 in the win-or-go-home NCAA Tournament. His ease at being in this kind of situation was once again evident.

Now the Knicks need to find a way to put a worthy team around him.


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