The New York Knicks hadn’t won in Miami since March 2017 when Kristaps Porzingis and Goran Dragic were still the headliners for both teams. Porzingis and Dragic have been on two different teams since. Tom Thibodeau hasn’t beaten Erik Spoelstra since he was hired to coach the Knicks.
It looked like those streaks were safe as Miami’s lead swelled to 17 points at the onset of the fourth quarter. The Heat appeared headed to tie their all-time head-to-head record against their old rivals at 65 wins.
Until the Knicks youngsters went bonkers.
A bunch of 23 years old and under, with the help of sage veteran Taj Gibson, played relentless defense. Ironically, they showed much better poise down the stretch against the Heat’s seasoned veterans Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry and All-Star center Bam Adebayo to stage one of the best comebacks this season.
Immanuel Quickley, 22, dropped 20 of his 23 points in the dizzying 38-13 close-out run as the Knicks shocked the Heat, the Eastern Conference’s top seed, 111-103, Friday night at FTX Arena in Miami.
Rookies Quentin Grimes (9 points) and Miles McBride (5 points), both 21, contributed all of their points in the stirring run. The oldest of the bunch, Jericho Sims, a 23-year old two-way rookie, provided rim protection and hustle.
New York coach Tom Thibodeau let the kids play. And they proved they belonged.
“We love our young guys. We see it every day. They’re supposed to bring energy, and they did,” Thibodeau said. “They were terrific.”
After Markieff Morris gave the Heat their biggest lead, 90-73, the Knicks tightened up their defense. Miami missed nine of their next ten shots while Quickley, Grimes, and McBride wreaked havoc.
A Grimes three-pointer off a McBride feed put the Knicks on top, 97-94, with 4:57 left, their first lead since the first quarter. And they never relinquished it.
The vanquished Heat slumped to their third straight dispiriting loss against teams missing top players. They’ve lost to Philadelphia 76ers without Joel Embiid and James Harden, followed by an ugly loss in the Bay Area against a Golden State team missing their star trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
Against the Knicks, who played without Julius Randle for the third straight game, and RJ Barrett (18 points on 17 shots) having a rough shooting night, the Heat imploded.
“Not again. No, this is totally different,” Spoelstra said. “Each game is different. This was a game that really was decided by the second chance opportunities they had, which just kept them alive.”
The Knicks cashed in their 18 offensive rebounds for a 28-14 advantage in the second-chance points. Sims pulled down four offensive rebounds. He finished with six points, seven boards, and a game-high plus-18 plus-minus as a starter. Mitchell Robinson, who returned from a sore back, played off the bench and produced 11 points and seven rebounds, all on the offensive glass.
In the fourth quarter, the Knicks dominated the Heat in every category.
“We’re playing well enough. We had a double-digit lead for the majority of the game. But those second chance opportunities were just keeping them close enough, and then they started to get to the free-throw line, and then they made some threes. They shot a ton of them. But really, it was in that order: second-chance opportunities, free throws, and then the threes,” Spoelstra added.
In the fourth quarter alone, the Knicks hit 10 of 10 free throws and sank six triples. They went 17 for 50 from beyond the arc for the entire game and shot 22 of 28 free throws.
1st Knicks win in Miami in 5 years pic.twitter.com/OiTD5F498P
— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) March 26, 2022
Quickley had three three-pointers and was perfect 8 for 8 from the stripes.
“No doubt [this is our best win]. They’re what we want to be, at the top of the East,” said Quickley, who sported dark shades during his postgame presser. “So to come out here against a great team and get a big win that speaks to what we’re capable of doing. So, we just got to bring that every night. You gotta bring that energy every night.”
It wasn’t the case for the most part of a disappointing season for the Knicks. But their inspiring run in the fourth quarter teased their potential.
“When you get stops and then get out and run, you’re playing fast and free. I feel like that’s where we’re at our advantage. So we just stuck with it. I think that was the biggest thing — sticking with it,” Quickley said. “Our grit, our toughness.”
“We’ve shown a lot this year, and we’ve been able to come back from large deficits. So we rather play for a lead, but if we’re down, we try not to panic and just try to find a way.”
It was the fourth-largest comeback for the Knicks this season. They rallied from 25 points down to beat Boston in January. They wiped out a 21-point deficit against Milwaukee last November and a 20-point deficit against Sacramento earlier this month.
But as Quickley said, this one was their best.
Simply because their youth provided a glimmer of hope in a dark season.
Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo