Heat leads from start to finish, beats Knicks to take 2-1 series lead

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A rare afternoon home start for a Heat playoff game conjured memories of late 20th century Heat-Knicks masterpiece theater, and visions of Tim Hardaway and Allan Houston delivering daytime daggers.

On Saturday, the Heat created new and delightful memories with a 105-86 Game 3 dismantling of the visiting Knicks, leaving Miami with a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven second-round playoff series.

Game 4 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Monday at Kaseya Center, on TNT.

Jimmy Butler again led the way, as he has throughout this postseason, with 28 points, and Bam Adebayo (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Max Strus (19 points) offered plenty in support.

The Heat is now 6-2 in the playoffs and halfway to the 12 wins required to make the NBA Finals. No No. 8 seed has advanced to a conference finals since the Knicks in 1999, and Miami is just two wins from achieving that.

Butler showed no ill effects of the ankle injury that sidelined him in Game 2.

He delivered his usual tutorial on footwork and post moves, scissoring to the basket for some of his 28 points, including 15 in the first half.

The Heat held its breath in the third quarter when Butler tumbled to the floor under the basket and jammed his foot against the stanchion. But Erik Spoelstra said Butler hit his thigh and did not re-injure his ankle. He remained in the game, and Spoelstra later said it was a stinger.

After an 8-0 Knicks run cut the Heat’s lead to 95-81, Butler returned with 5:10 left in the fourth and promptly hit a jumper with one second left on the shot clock. He finished 9 for 21 from the field and 10 for 11 from the line and added four rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.

“He’s playing at an all time high,” Adebayo said.

But Butler said afterward that he was “out of rhythm” after the five-day layoff.

Adebayo came out sharp and aggressive, with a swirling hook and suffocating defense on Julius Randle (and others) highlighting his work.

“Bam was all over the place, both ends of the court,” Spoelstra said. “The stat line doesn’t do any justice of the impact to be able to take a challenge on a great player like Randle, with limited help.”

With Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel and general manager Chris Grier sitting courtside, Kevin Love lofted two of his patented outlet passes early on, including one to Strus for a dunk.

Strus was an igniter early in both halves, blocking Jalen Brunson less than five minutes into the game and scoring on a finger-roll (off a Love pass) eight seconds later. Strus scored nine in the first half, then added eight in the third to push the Heat’s lead to 20.

“Offensively, he gave us a really big spark,” Spoelstra said. “He does a lot of good things defensively too.”

Gabe Vincent (five points) opened 0 for 6 but had two steals, four assists and harrassing defense on Brunson.

The bench gave the Heat a big lift, scoring 14 points before Knicks’ reserves scored a single point.

Caleb Martin was a dynamo defensively, Kyle Lowry chipped in 14 points and four assists and Cody Zeller (six points, six rebounds) and Haywood Highsmith (five points, six rebounds) had some very good moments.

“They were really inspiring,” Spoelstra said of the Heat bench. “They gave us a big time boost. Starters set the tone. The bench was equally efficient and active.”

The Heat, creating contact on forays to the basket, shot 31 free throws and made 28 of them, compared with 16 for 22 for the Knicks.

That was one big key Saturday. Another was meticulous Heat defense that heavily contributed to the Knicks shooting 34 percent from the field and 20 percent on threes (8 for 40).

“That was the biggest thing for us - making them take tough shots, making them play in crowds, getting to their shooters and run them off the [three-point] line,” Adebayo said. “That’s what won us that game today.”

The Knicks’ best scorers all struggled from the field.

Randle scored just 10 points - 15 below his regular season average - and shot 4 for 15, finishing with as many turnovers (four) as baskets (four).

Brunson (20) shot 7 for 20, including 0 for 5 on threes.

RJ Barrett (14 points) opened 2 for 8 and finished 5 for 16.

And what would Heat-Knicks be without some chippiness? Tempers flared late in the third when Zeller and Randle jostled for a rebound, and Zeller nudged Randle to the floor.

Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein then pushed Zeller; both of those players picked up technical fouls, as did Martin for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“Much ado about nothing,” Spoelstra told ABC after the third quarter. Zeller said: “It’s all good. It was nothing.”

The Heat shot 21.9 percent on threes (7 for 32) and it hardly mattered.

The Heat was supremely sharp from the jump; Adebayo’s airtight defense forced a Randle miss on the Knicks’ first possession and Butler hit a spinning fadeaway on the other end. That was a sign of things to come.

The Heat spurted to a 13-6 lead, as Brunson opened 0 for 5, and led 29-21 after one quarter, behind 10 from Butler. This marked the sixth time in seven postseason games that Butler reached double figures in the first quarter.

And when Spoelstra went to his bench, the results were equally good.

A lineup of five Heat reserves unleashed a 12-2 run to start the second quarter and suddenly the Heat was up 44-25.

At one point in the second quarter, the Knicks were 0 for 8 on three-pointers in the game and 0 for 15 on all shots outside the paint.

The Knicks hung around, going to the half down 58-44, while shooting 34 percent and 2 for 16 on threes.

After an initial Knicks spurt to start the third, a 12-2 Heat run pushed Miami’s margin back to 21. By the end of the third, Butler had 24 and the Heat led 87-70.

New York never drew closer than 13 in the fourth quarter and lost guard Immanuel Quickley to an ankle injury after a collision with Adebayo.