Heat move on to Eastern Conference  finals after 96-92 victory over Knicks

PLAYOFF JIMMY: The Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler (22) embraces the New York Knicks' Mitchell Robinson (23) after Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at Kaseya Center on Friday, May 12, 2023, in Miami. The Heat won, 96-92, to eliminate the Knicks. Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images/Tribune News Service

MIAMI — This team.

You could pause to try to make sense of it all.

Or you could simply appreciate a remarkable truth about the Miami Heat:

They are headed to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in the past four seasons.

No, not your typical No. 8 seed.

Certainly not after eliminating the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the first round.

And certainly not now after eliminating the New York Knicks 4-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

After twice overcoming double-digit fourth-quarter deficits to eliminate the Bucks, the Heat this time overcame an early 14-point third-period deficit for the dramatic 96-92 victory Friday night at Kaseya Center that ended the Knicks’ season.



But true.

And, so, next up is the winner of the other best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, which is tied 3-3 between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers going into their Sunday Game 7 in Boston.

The Heat will start the East finals Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. in either Boston or Philadelphia, before making their Kaseya Center return on May 21 for Game 3 of that series. The East finals will be played every other night starting Wednesday on a 2-2-1-1-1 basis, with all games at 8:30 p.m. on TNT.

For now, four days to exhale.

And perhaps attempt to make sense of it all, in a postseason when they barely escape the all-or-nothing play-in round.

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson again was the singular star of the night, following up Wednesday night’s 38 points with 41.

For the Heat, there were 24 points and eight rebounds from Jimmy Butler, 23 points and nine rebounds from Bam Adebayo and 11 points and nine assists off the bench from Kyle Lowry, who came up with a decisive late-game steal to help seal it.

Five degrees of Heat from Friday’s game:

• Closing time: The Knicks moved to an early 14-point advantage and led 31-24 going into the second period. The Heat then fought back to a 51-50 halftime lead, moving to a 74-71 lead going into the fourth.

The Heat eventually extended their lead to 85-76 with 6:25 to play, with the Knicks climbing back within 87-84 with 3:17 left on a Brunson 3-pointer.

From there, an Adebayo dunk with 65 seconds left put the Heat up 92-86.

But with 59.2 seconds to play, came a huge video review, with the Heat’s Gabe Vincent called for a flagrant foul while trying to advance the ball.

Brunson made the two free throws to get New York within 92-88, with New York retaining possession, with a Josh Hart layup making it a two-point game.

At 92-90, Lowry then came up with his steal with 14.4 seconds left, with Butler making a pair of free throws for a 94-90 Heat lead.

• Butler’s challenge: Knicks guard Quentin Grimes again proved to be a defensive challenge for Butler, who stood 5 of 14 from the field through three quarters, rarely able to create space going to the basket.

After a playoff-low 19-point performance in Game 5, Butler this time reached that total with 6:25 to play.

Like Game 5, Butler started the fourth quarter, which typically is when he has taken his second-half rest, playing the entire second half for a second consecutive game.

Through it all, Butler became the first Heat player to average at least 30 points through his first 10 games of a postseason.

• Active Adebayo: Having dealt with hamstring and shoulder issues this postseason, Adebayo was active and aggressive in sparking the 13-2 second-period run that pushed the Heat all the way back from their early 14-point deficit.

He stood with 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting at halftime, scoring 11 in the second period, with 19 going into the fourth.

His play on the defensive end helped the Heat put it away.

• The Brunson burner: Brunson picked up where he left off with his 38 points in New York’s Wednesday night Game 5 home win, up to 15 points with 3:43 left in the opening period, scoring 15 of the Knicks’ first 26.

Vincent opened defensively on Brunson, with Butler then taking over after Vincent was called for his second foul.

But even with Caleb Martin also called into the defensive equation, Brunson still closed the opening period 5 of 7 from the field, 3 of 5 on 3-pointers and 2 of 2 from the line.

When Brunson was subbed out with 9:55 to play in the second period with his second foul, it was his first time off since Monday’s Game 4, having played all 48 minutes of Game 5. The Heat then went to a zone defense and scored the game’s next eight points.

Brunson was called for his third foul with 37.6 seconds to play in the second period, up to 22 points by then, with 28 points going into the fourth.

Brunson became the first Knick with three straight 30-point playoff games since Patrick Ewing in May 1990.

• Foul thoughts: A game after the Heat ceded the Knicks 40 free throws, the Heat gave up eight Knicks free throws by the midpoint of the opening period.

By that stage, Vincent already was on the bench with his second foul with 7:32 left in the opening period, with Kevin Love then called for his second foul with 5:29 left in the first.

The Knicks’ 11 first-quarter free throws were the most by any opponent in any opening period this season.

There was concern even before the opening tip, with Scott Foster assigned as the game’s lead official, with the Heat having lost their previous nine with Foster officiating, including Game 2 of the series.

Concerns were further realized when the Knicks moved into the bonus with 9:45 to play, and then when Foster called the key flagrant foul on Vincent.