Against all odds, probability and even rationality, the New York Knicks continued their climb toward the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket on Friday night.
Facing a Miami Heat team that was hungry for a win in its own building, Julius Randle and Co. found themselves trailing 120-119 in the game’s waning seconds. So, when Jalen Brunson was forced to give the ball up to Randle on New York’s final possession, it was up to the two-time All-Star to steal the win or fail trying.
Jimmy Butler was all over the play, too, deflecting the initial pass and then knocking the ball loose once again as Randle hunted for a shot on the perimeter. Instead of rolling on down the court or bouncing out of bounds, though, the ball ended up back in Randle’s hands, leaving the big man to hurl an off-balance triple to beat the clock.
Somehow, some way, the shot hit pay dirt, giving the Knicks a 122-120 win and propelling them to within a game of the No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers in the standings.
In the wake of the wild finish, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra was left with little recourse but to shrug off the result and give props to the Knicks’ go-to guy.
Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra Sounds Off on Loss to Knicks & Julius Randle’s Late-Game Heroics
In speaking to reporters after the game, Spoelstra conceded that he thought the game was Miami’s after Tyler Herro came away with a loose ball and put the club on top with just 23.1 ticks left on the clock.
“Down the stretch, it’s a game where they hit some tough shots… we were hitting tough shots [as well], but you’re thinking, once we got the steal and Tyler got the layup, that now we just have to rely on our half-court defense, which is one of the best half-court defenses in the league,” Spoelstra said.
Instead of pulling it out, though, the Heat saw Randle come through in the face of suffocating defense on the ensuing possession. And Spoelstra was taken aback by the improbability of it all.
“I think, if you could do that play a hundred times — and Jimmy pokes away the ball twice on that play — 99 times out of 100, it’s going to end up in our favor,” he said.
“The second one was just… it’s just a crazy bounce as Jimmy poked it away, it bounced off of Randle’s foot, didn’t go out of bounds, didn’t go a different direction. It just went right back into his hands. That’s just crazy unfortunate.”
Julius Randle’s Epic Performance
Randle finished with a game-high 43 points, hitting 16 of 25 shots, knocking down eight three-pointers and adding nine boards, three assists and a blocked shot for good measure.
For his part, Spoelstra was left with little recourse but to give it up to the baller for his heroics throughout the affair.
“He made a heck of a shot. I thought Tyler really made a smart play of rotating, just to have another body there, but still — that’s not an easy shot to capitalize on, but he was in a great rhythm starting from the first half,” the Heat play-caller said.
“This is a heck of a finish. I think everybody in the building, everybody uh in our locker room, felt that we were going to get that stop. We have a great half-court defense and and we did everything you need to do. Sometimes, the ball doesn’t go in your favor, but that’s ultimately what you really want.”