The Miami Heat and the New York Knicks partied like it was 1997 on Sunday as the two teams tipped off their second-round playoff series and rekindled a decades-old rivalry in the process. And, much as the club did against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. in Round 1, the Heat outperformed expectations.
Led once again by Jimmy Butler — who scored a team-high 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting and added 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals in 43 minutes of play — the ballers of Biscayne stole Game 1 at Madison Square Garden by a 108-101 mark.
Alas, Miami’s victory may have come at a significant cost. Midway through the fourth quarter, Butler suffered what appeared to be a severe ankle sprain. And while the six-time All-Star ultimately stayed in the game, head coach Erik Spoelstra now faces the prospect of his already-shorthanded team potentially losing its ace.
“No idea,” Spoelstra said of Butler’s status following the injury, via Bally Sports Sun. “You just don’t know with ankle sprains. I don’t even know if we’ll know more by tomorrow. We’ll just have to see — it’ll be a waiting game. But he did not want to come out of the game so we left him in there.”
Erik Spoelstra: Jimmy Butler Inspired Heat Teammates by Refusing to Come Out of the Game
Miami has already been gobsmacked by injuries this postseason, having lost Tyler Herro to a broken hand and Victor Oladipo to a torn patellar tendon during its series with the Bucks.
As Spoelstra sees it, though, going through that kind of adversity all season long has made his players better equipped to handle the blows that come their way.
“This group has been through a lot… and we’re not being insensitive to when guys get nicked up or get hurt, but our group has learned to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand…” Spoelstra told reporters.
The Heat play-caller further noted that Butler’s ability to overcome his ankle sprain — for the time being, anyway — lit a fire under the baller’s teammates.
“We’ve had probably more practice than anybody else in having to step up when guys get hurt, but that certainly is inspiring that he would not come out of the game and to be able to finish the game. Just infused a bunch of confidence to the rest of the guys that we have to finish this off.”
Asked whether any other Heat players have the ability to wave off coaches/trainers and finish out a game with an injury, Spoelstra eventually landed on his OG — “I don’t know. Udonis Haslem, probably. I don’t want to get beat up on national TV.”
Kevin Love Sparks Miami With Epic Outlet Passes
Kevin Love has yet to consistently act as the high-level floor-spacer and scorer the Heat thought they were getting when they signed him to a rest-of-season deal following his contract buyout in Cleveland. However, the five-time All-Star has found other ways to contribute when he’s not getting buckets.
During the third period of the Heat’s series opener against the Knicks, he did so with a series of incredible outlet-pass dimes for easy buckets, which helped swing momentum in his team’s favor.
Said Spoelstra of Love’s pinpoint passing: “…We made some timely plays. I mean, it probably started with Kevin Love’s rebounding and outlet passes. We were able to get some relief points, which [are] tough to get against this team.”