Butler, Heat start 2nd round with 108-101 win over Knicks

JIMMY Butler looked his coach in the eye and said he was staying in the game, no matter how much his ankle might have hurt.

The Miami Heat needed all season to turn into the team they expected, so no way Butler wants to miss a minute of it now.

Butler had 25 points and 11 rebounds, and the No. 8-seeded Heat kept rolling after barely reaching the postseason, beating the New York Knicks 108-101 on Sunday (Monday, May 1, 2023 PH time) in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“We’re just playing great basketball,” Butler said in a postgame interview on the court with ABC, while still showing a limp after a fourth-quarter ankle sprain.

“We’re together, at home, on the road, through the good and through the bad. We believe that we can do something special.”

Gabe Vincent scored 20 points for the Heat, who became the sixth No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 when they toppled Milwaukee in the first round. They continue to look nothing like a team that was only three games above .500 when they reached April and needed to win a play-in game just to get the final postseason berth in the East.

They averaged 124 points in that series behind Butler’s 37.6 per game, but they pulled this one out with old-fashioned defense and rebounding that has always worked so well before for them at this time of year.

“It’s the playoffs, number one. You expect it to be tough,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Two, just because the regular season didn’t go the way we wanted it to go or other people wanted it to go, doesn’t mean we weren’t developing grit and tough habits and good things. It wasn’t just from the play-in.”

RJ Barrett scored 26 points and Jalen Brunson had 25 for the fifth-seeded Knicks, who are in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They started strong and led most of the first half, but the Heat eventually got the Madison Square Garden crowd quieter and quieter as the game went on.

Game 2 is Tuesday night (Wednesday morning).

The Knicks were without All-Star forward Julius Randle because of a sprained left ankle and they surely missed him when the transition points dried up and it became a half-court game.

They could’ve used his shooting on a day they went 7 for 34 behind the arc, missing a chance to break open the game early and then hindering any chances of coming back. Brunson was 0 for 7 from outside and committed five turnovers.

“I was horrific,” he said. “Very uncharacteristic of me and this one’s on me. I’ve got to be better.” / AP