NEW YORK — If you’ve played for Erik Spoelstra, you’ve heard him talk about “relief points.” These are “all the buckets that you don’t necessarily have to line up a game to get, they just happen over the course of the game,” said Miami Heat center Cody Zeller. Leaky dunks. Easy buckets after forcing turnovers or offensive rebounds. Free throws when you are in the bonus.
“Anything you can get in those random areas often can make all the difference,” Spoelstra said.
Relief points are especially important in the playoffs because everyone knows everyone’s game and the game tends to slow down. Against good defensive teams, it is in demand to find a high-quality look on the halfcourt every time.
“We don’t want to put so much pressure on our offense throughout the game,” said Miami’s Bam Adebayo.
It’s about finding “those in-between areas, where you can cash in six or eight points in transition, a few rematch points,” said Heat winger Duncan Robinson. Gaining home field-field advantage against the New York Knicks in the series opener on Sunday, they got six easy points straight from Kevin Love’s deep outlet passes.
“I’m sure they watched all those outlet passes,” Spoelstra said during the morning shootout for Game 2 on Tuesday. “I’m sure they’ll be well trained to get guys back. Hopefully we’ll have to find some other ways to generate some easy baskets before the defense kicks in.”
The Knicks got guys back and unfortunately for Miami it couldn’t generate any easy baskets before the defense got going. Despite the absence of star Jimmy Butler, who was sidelined with a sprained ankle, the Heat did a lot of things right on Tuesday — generating tons of 3s, providing the ball and protecting the rim — but failed to score a single quick break point. They also didn’t find much relief on second chance chances (seven points on 2-for-7 shooting) or at the free throw line (12 for 17).
Sometimes, “You look at it at the end of the game, and it’s like, ‘Man, they won that game because they have X number of helper buckets,'” Adebayo said. In this case, the Heat lost largely because the Knicks got more than they did. At half court, Miami scored 110.3 points per 100 possessions in Game 2, which is 3.6 per 100 better than New York managed, per Cleaning The Glass. However, the Knicks came away with a 111-105 victory, as they grabbed more offensive rebounds and grabbed a few points in transition.
“The deciding factors,” said Spoelstra, were the retake points New York found in the fourth quarter. “The things we are proud of – ball in the air, ball on the ground – sort of dominated that [in] those last six minutes.”
With less than six minutes left, a Knicks possession seemed to go nowhere. Then Julius Randle put the ball on the ground and found Isaiah Hartenstein as the float. It didn’t go in, but heat guard Kyle Lowry was called for a loose ball foul on the rebound and then the Knicks produced four more shots on the same possession, ending with Josh Hart making a 3-pointer to tie the game .
“It felt like four minutes of possession,” said Spoelstra.
For Miami, this was a nightmarish momentum swing. For New York, “it kind of showed who we are as a team,” Hartenstein said. “Whatever happens, I think we’ll stick together and just keep going.”
Hart said that “things like that, especially late in games”, energizes the team and the crowd. “That helps win. That is to win.”
The Knicks were leading by four when Hart missed a wide open corner 3 with about a minute left. However, Hart got away with the rebound, and when he missed his follow-up, Randle got the board and was fouled.
New York was in a dangerous area for most of the game. Jalen Brunson, playing through an ankle injury, shot 1 for 6 in the first half and found his way to 30 points. Randle, also going through an ankle injury, started and finished the game making good passes against a charged defense, but forced some shots down the middle. It took the team a while to adjust to the Heat zone defense, and it was lucky that Miami only made 17 of its 49 three-point attempts.
For the Knicks, a close call against a team missing its franchise player isn’t exactly cause for celebration. However, it is a sigh of relief.