Jimmy Butler scored 24 points, Bam Adebayo added 23, and the Miami Heat are back in the Eastern Conference Finals after beating the New York Knicks 96-92 on Friday night.
Max Strus scored 14 oiubts and Kyle Lowry had 11 points and nine assists for the eighth-seeded Heat, who won the semifinal series 4-2 to advance to the conference finals for the 10th time overall and the third time in the last four years.
Miami became the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to advance to the Conference Finals – joining the Knicks, who succeeded in 1999. The Heat will travel to Boston or Philadelphia when of Game 1 on Wednesday. The Celtics and 76ers play Game 7 of their series on Sunday.
Jalen Brunson was spectacular for New York, scoring 41 points on 14-for-22 shooting. But his teammates combined for just 51 points – Julius Randle had 15 and RJ Barrett 11 on 1-for-10 shooting. Josh Hart has also tallied 11 points for the Knicks.
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It was risky in the end, but Miami survived. Gabe Vincent was called for a blatant-1 against Brunson with just under a minute left, starting a run where the Knicks scored four runs in 4.6 seconds.
Brunson made the free throws, Hart added a layup and a 92-86 lead was down to 92-90.
The Knicks stopped at the other end, but never managed to shoot the next possession. Lowry brushed the ball away for a steal, Butler made two free throws with 14.4 seconds left and the countdown to the NBA’s last four was on.
Miami was called for four fouls in the first 2:15 of the fourth quarter, setting the pace for New York to continue reaching the line throughout the final period.
The Knicks tied it early in the third, but missed 10 more second-half field goal attempts — along with two free throws — that would have tied New York or given them the lead.
Miami bent – but never broke. Vincent set Adebayo up for a dunk with 1:05 to go that put Miami up 92-86, and in that moment it became a matter of stoppage.
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Brunson had 22 points in the first half, tying his third best before intermission in any game this season — and his best at halftime in a playoff game. He was 15 in the first quarter when the Knicks came out flying to take control early.
New York led 14 in the first quarter, and Miami never led by more than two in the first 24 minutes. But it was Miami that led at halftime, going up 51-50 at the break largely because it ultimately kept New York off the line.
The Knicks have made 11 free throws in the first quarter — the most by any Heat opponent this season and tying for fourth against Miami in an opener in the past decade. But they didn’t even reach the line in the final 15:16 of the half.
The score at this point: Knicks 29, Heat 17. The score for the remainder of the half: Heat 34, Knicks 21, though Miami were outscored 21-6 from 3-point range in the first two periods.
Knicks: Brunson and Quentin Grimes played all 48 minutes in Game 5, but that was quickly out of place in Game 6. Grimes sat for 6:41 of the first half, Brunson for 2:44, although that was partly because he got his third foul with 37.6 seconds left. … Immanuel Quickley (sprained left ankle) missed his third game in a row. … New York finished 53-40, its best single-season record since 60-34 in 2012-13.
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Heat: Victor Oladipo was at the game, on crutches and braced after surgery to repair his torn patellar tendon. … The Heat had three starters (Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Butler) all shorter than the Miami Marlins starting pitcher a few miles away – rookie Eury Perez, who made his major league debut, is 6ft 8 inches. … Miami had 3-point tries as time expired in each of the first three quarters. They all missed.
Among those at the game: Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel — even during a rookie minicamp weekend for his team — and Dallas (and former Knicks) guard Tim Hardaway Jr., whose father’s jersey is among those retired by the Heat.