MIAMI — Dozens of New Yorkers flock to South Florida in March for spring break to have fun, and Friday night the Knicks’ youngsters had a time to remember.
After three really boring quarters, with the Knicks behind the mighty Heat by 15 points, they started throwing a party – with Immanuel Quickley and rookies Miles McBride, Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims at the life of this fiesta.
It wasn’t Saint Peter’s, but it was pretty good as the Knicks rallied to stun the opening Heat, 111-103, at FTX Arena. The Knicks (32-42) won their second straight game, after bombing the Hornets on Wednesday, and moved within five games of 10th-place Atlanta in the Eastern Conference with eight to play.
Quickley exploded for 23 points, 20 in the final period, and sealed the win with six consecutive free throws. It was coach Tom Thibodeau’s first victory over Miami since becoming the Knicks’ head coach last season. He was 0-5 entering the contest.
After the 38-15 fourth quarter, Quickley entered the interview room in dark tones – appropriately.
“They’re where we want to be – at the top of the East,” Quickley said. “Coming here against a great team and getting a big win is what we are capable of. Play fast, play for free, that’s where we have an advantage. We like to play with a lead but if we are down we try not to panic.
After 3 straight points from Grimes, one set up on an offensive rebound from Sims, the Knicks took the lead — their first since the start of the first quarter — at 97-94 with 4:55 left. The once-silent contingent of Knicks fans let out a loud roar in the downtown Miami arena.
During their run, McBride blocked Heat’s star goaltender Kyle Lowry’s shot and ran for a layup to take the Knicks to 92-89. They had led 88-73 going into the fourth but McBride’s defense against Lowry, one of his idols, was critical.
“It was huge – obviously it wasn’t easy, they’re No. 1 for a reason,” McBride said. “Their attack is well done. They may be a little lax. We took advantage and Quick did their thing.
Thibodeau praised his best defensive back.
“It’s not easy coverage, because of his ability to shoot but also his ability to shoot fouls,” Thibodeau said. “It came with the big rebound in traffic. These are win type games. And so, that’s great.
The Knicks made most of their big push in the fourth quarter with RJ Barrett on the bench amid a tough night (5 for 17, 18 points) and Julius Randle for a third straight game with a sore quad. Evan Fournier also sat out the entire fourth quarter after a shoddy shooting night (2 for 11).
Thibodeau added an odd twist to his press conference when he said he was tired of this season being seen by the media and social media as starters against the bench, young against old.
“It’s a long season,” Thibodeau said of Young Wolves. “You need everyone. That’s why you have bench and depth. Depth is essential in today’s NBA.
“It was the same young legs we had in the first half. You’re trying to nitpick this, nitpick that. You need everyone throughout a season. We love our young guys. They bring it every day. They are supposed to bring energy. You need RJ, you need Julius, you need [Mitchell Robinson]you need Evan, you need Alec [Burks]. You need everyone. It’s a team – not an individual thing.”
Obi Toppin added 15 points for the Knicks but sat out the fourth quarter, when Taj Gibson was the second big player on the field.
Quickley hit a big left-handed drive banker to put the Knicks by four with 2:20 to go. Quickley took a quick break after intercepting a midfield pass to give the Knicks a seven-point bulge with 1:12 left.
The Heat controlled the first half, scoring 24 points in the paint and leading up to 14 points. Miami’s Jimmy Butler scored 17 of his 30 points in the first half.
Robinson returned from a sore back, but Thibodeau still pitched Sims, who scored six points with seven rebounds and was a team-high plus-17.
“Our courage, our tenacity, I think we’ve shown a lot this year, being able to come back from big deficits,” Quickley said.