Knicks prove resilient with comeback victory over HeatNovember 25, 2023
Immanuel Quickley thought just one word to himself. Dang. He checked into Friday’s matchup against the Miami Heat at the 3:57 mark of the third quarter and looked up at the scoreboard, only — to his dismay — to discover his Knicks buried in an 18-point hole, a deficit that expanded to 21 just 17 seconds later. In a pivotal In-Season Tournament game mirroring the energy bursting from Madison Square Garden in the second-round playoff series last season, the Knicks were on pace to be one of a number of NBA teams that were blown-out on Friday night. Seven teams lost by 10 or more the day after Thanksgiving, including the defending champion Denver Nuggets (lost by 19 to the Houston Rockets), the league-worst Detroit Pistons (lost by 23 to the Indiana Pacers) and the Eastern Conference favorite Boston Celtics (lost by 17 to the Orlando Magic). The Knicks had a chance to give up when first-half turnover woes compounded into a scoreless first five minutes of the third quarter. The Heat ran off a 17-0 run to start the second half. The Knicks then outscored them by 18 in the fourth quarter alone to secure Friday’s 100-98 victory — along with improved odds to qualify for the Las Vegas knockout rounds in the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament. “It’s a decision to mentally check out or not. It’s a decision to keep fighting. It’s a decision to tell yourself you got to keep fighting no matter what,” said Quickley. “I did look at the score and say ‘dang’ when I seen how much we was down. I literally said that. But then I got right back to it. “I said, ‘Let’s go. Let’s try to get a comeback going.'”
The 21-point comeback wasn’t the only miracle at The Garden on Friday. The Knicks somehow stumbled into halftime with a one-point lead despite giving possessions away like Thanksgiving turkeys. Julius Randle turned the ball over five times in the first half alone, and the Knicks gave it away 19 times altogether leading to 25 points for the Heat. “You gotta overcome that,” said head coach Tom Thibodeau. Randle turned it over six times and attributed the turnovers to “playing off one foot” with a desire to get back to playing off of two. On one of his turnovers, he rifled a pass from one corner to the other, but the piping-hot fastball ripped through Donte DiVincenzo’s hands and appeared to strike a fan sitting on the floor level. “I’m probably going to hear about that later,” he said. Both Thibodeau and Knicks point guard Jalen Brunson lamented the turnover woes as a byproduct of indecision and over-passing. “They’re an active team. They get steals,” Thibodeau said postgame. “But there were a lot of good plays that we made, but we kept trying to thread the needle instead of the first open man. You gotta hit the first open man.” “They are a very good defensive team, so when teams like that collapse, we have to give our outlets,” added Brunson. “It’s not always on the guy who turns it over, it’s on the people who aren’t available to receive the pass. We have to be ready on all fronts.” Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo spent two-and-a-half quarters slicing the Knick defense like a honey-roasted Thanksgiving ham. Mitchell Robinson’s early foul trouble set the Knicks back on the interior, and Adebayo took advantage with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Butler tallied a team-high 23 points.
Where exactly did the comeback start? The account varies based on who tells the story. At some point in the second half with the Knicks down big, Brunson said a fan shared with him his disappointment. “He didn’t motivate me. He said what he said. He said, ‘This is embarrassing,'” the star guard said. “I just looked at him. I said, ‘Alright. I’m doing my best.'” Thibodeau credits Robinson, who split a pair of free throw at the 7:13 mark of the third quarter, then deflected a Haywood Highsmith pass to start a fast break that led to a Brunson floater in transition. The Knicks forced a second straight turnover on the following possession then scored on an RJ Barrett layup to make it a 13-point game and force a Heat timeout. “Mitch made a big steal. It was a deflection and a steal and got us down the floor quick,” said Thibodeau. “Then we came back. I think we had three stops in a row right there, and that sorta brought the game back, where you felt like, ‘OK, we got a chance. If we can get this inside 10, something good can happen.” Quickley, the savior of the game — “Himmy Choo,” a name later bequeathed by his teammate Brunson — remembered Thibodeau’s pregame message: A game against the Heat would be anything but easy. “Defensive games. Thibs actually said that. He literally said that before the game that it was gonna be that type of game,” Quickley said. “We didn’t know it was going to be down 25 and have to come back and win. But, those games, you got to be able to win different kinds of ways.” Quickley scored just six points in the first half and erupted for six more in the third quarter alone and eight in the game’s final period. He played the entire fourth quarter. The Knicks outscored the Heat by 22 points in Quickley’s 25:38 on the floor. “Spark plug, man,” said Barrett. “He really got us back in it when we had nothing going.” Quickley finished third in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season. Early returns are promising: The fourth-year guard is averaging more points in four fewer minutes per game than last season. “I think he was big in that third quarter,” said Randle. “It was a 20-point game and he hit a couple threes to just make it reasonable. Brought it back down to 12 and from there, we had a shot. We just kept with the momentum.”
The Knicks trailed by 19 at the top of the fourth quarter. Other teams may have pulled the plug with an early tipoff against a formidable opponent in the Phoenix Suns two days later. “I feel like this team, there’s a lot of dogs — like chip on their shoulder type people,” said Quickley. “People that bring it every single day. High-character, high-motor type players on this team. So, when you have a lot of those, you never out of any game.” New York held Miami to just one field goal from the 11:05 mark of the fourth quarter to the 6:05 mark, chopping an almost 20-point deficit to just single digits thanks to strong play from the second unit. “We shouldn’t be down 21 in the third,” Brunson said. “We should be better than that. But we kept fighting.” Brunson scored eight points in the game’s final three minutes. “That’s who he is: big shot making, toughness, great competitor, think on his feet,” said Thibodeau. “That’s what he did.” With the comeback all but complete, the Knicks needed one last stop with Butler isolated against Barrett with the game on the line. Butler went to his signature step-back three, but it came up short after Barrett’s quick contest. “I knew he was gonna go to the step-back,” Barrett said. “I thought he was gonna go to the step-back right but he went left.” This is what all Heat-Knicks games look and feel like. In-Season Tournament, Play-In Tournament, playoffs or meaningless regular-season game — the history between these two teams suggests every game might come down to the wire. Even if one team is leading by 21 in the third quarter — because neither team is going to lay down. The Knicks didn’t on Friday. They came up short in the playoffs last year, too, but according to Thibodeau, last year is…