Despite both games being close, the New York Knicks have struggled to create advantages through traditional offense, relying instead on Jalen Brunson controlling possession. In the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Brunson has averaged 9.8 minutes of possession, the most in the conference semis, while no Miami Heat player has controlled the ball for more than 5.4 minutes per game. The Knicks passed the ball more in Game 2 than in Game 1, but they still recorded assists on just 55.1% of their field goals. Meanwhile, the Heat are about creating advantages through movement and off-ball actions, with an average of 315 passes per 24 minutes of possession, and they’ve assisted on more than two-thirds of their baskets.
The Heat’s defense has not been focused on toppling Brunson. Though they played zone for three of the eight quarters, the Knicks have set 92 ball screens for Brunson over the two games. That counters the method used in the Cleveland Cavaliers game when Brunson had a career-high 27 points in Game 1. Cavs started to blitz Brunson pick-and-rolls to get the ball out of his hands. Brunson has shot 14-for-21 from the paint in the Heat series, but only 1-for-4 from midrange and 6-for-17 (35%) from 3-point range.
Miami’s offense is about movement, with Caleb Martin, Duncan Robinson and Max Strus the three fastest players on average in the playoffs. The Knicks aim to keep that movement contained by top-blocking Miami’s shooters so they cannot take the standard path around pin-down screens. The first counter to that is cutting back door, which Strus did on the Heat’s first possession of the third quarter. To protect against the back door, the screener’s defender can sit back in the paint, which is when it helps to have a screener able to shoot. In the playoffs, both teams know what the other is going to run; however, the Heat appear to be the best team at taking advantage of a defense that overplays scripted action.
This series has been surprisingly efficient so far, with the two teams combining to score 114.9 points per 100 possessions through the two games, despite neither team having gotten a lot of points in transition. The Knicks have run once or twice, but they still average just 16.5 transition points in the two games, down from 21.2 (15th) in the regular season. The Miami Heat ranked third in opponent turnover rate in the regular season, with Butler ranking second among individuals in steals. Despite the lack of transition, both teams will probably continue with their winning formula.