MIAMI (AP) — Jimmy Butler scored 24 points, Bam Adebayo added 23 and the Miami Heat are headed back to the Eastern Conference finals after topping the New York Knicks 96-92 on Friday night.
Max Strus scored 14 points and Kyle Lowry had 11 points and nine assists for the eighth-seeded Heat, who won the semifinal series 4-2 to go to the conference finals for the 10th time overall and the third time in the last four years.
Miami became the second No. 8 seed in NBA history to make the conference finals — joining the Knicks, who pulled it off in 1999. The Heat will visit Boston or Philadelphia in Game 1 on Wednesday. The Celtics and 76ers play Game 7 of their series Sunday.
Jalen Brunson was spectacular for New York, scoring 41 points on 14-for-22 shooting. But his teammates combined for only 51 points — Julius Randle had 15 and RJ Barrett 11 on 1-for-10 shooting. Josh Hart also had 11 points for the Knicks.
It was dicey at the end, but Miami survived. Gabe Vincent was called for a flagrant-1 against Brunson with just under a minute left, starting a run where the Knicks scored four points in 4.6 seconds.
Brunson made the free throws, Hart added a layup and a 92-86 lead was down to 92-90.
The Knicks got a stop at the other end, but never got a shot off on the next possession. Lowry knocked the ball away for a steal, Butler made two free throws with 14.4 seconds left and the countdown back to the NBA’s final four was on.
Miami was whistled for four fouls in the first 2:15 of the fourth quarter, setting the tone for New York to keep getting to the line throughout the final period.
The Knicks tied it early in the third, but missed 10 other field-goal attempts in the second half — along with two free throws — that would have pulled New York into a tie or given it the lead.
Miami bent — but never broke. Vincent set up Adebayo for a dunk with 1:05 left that put Miami up 92-86, and at that point it became a matter of getting stops.
Brunson had 22 points in the first half, tying his third-most before intermission in any game this season – and his most ever by halftime of a playoff game. He had 15 in the first quarter when the Knicks came out flying to grab early control.
New York led 14 in the opening quarter, and Miami never led by more than two in the first 24 minutes. But it was Miami with the lead at the half, going up 51-50 by the break in large part because it finally kept New York off the line.
The Knicks made 11 free throws in the first quarter — the most by any Heat opponent this season and tying the fourth-most against Miami in an opening period over the last decade. But they didn’t even get to the line in the final 15:16 of the half.
The score to that point: Knicks 29, Heat 17. The score over the rest of the half: Heat 34, Knicks 21, even though Miami was getting outscored 21-6 from 3-point range in the opening two periods.
Knicks: Brunson and Quentin Grimes played all 48 minutes of Game 5, but that was quickly off the table in Game 6. Grimes sat for 6:41 of the opening half, Brunson for 2:44, though some of that was because he got his third foul with 37.6 seconds left. … Immanuel Quickley (sprained left ankle) missed his third consecutive game. … New York finished 53-40, its best record in a season since going 60-34 in 2012-13.
Heat: Victor Oladipo was at the game, on crutches and braced after surgery to repair his torn patellar tendon. … The Heat had three starters (Gabe Vincent, Max Strus and Butler) all shorter than the Miami Marlins’ starting pitcher a couple miles away — rookie Eury Perez, who made his big-league debut, is 6-foot-8. … Miami had 3-point tries as time expired in each of the first three quarters. They all missed.
Among those at the game: Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel – even on a rookie minicamp weekend for his team – and Dallas (and former Knicks) guard Tim Hardaway Jr., whose father’s jersey is among those retired by the Heat.
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Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press