Down two games to one, the New York Knicks should be the more desperate team in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). But the Heat were in this same situation exactly two weeks ago, up 2-1 against the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo returning from a two-game absence. And they won Game 4 at home, getting 56 points from Jimmy Butler and coming back from 14 points down in the fourth quarter.
That, of course, was a very different series. And we’ve come to this point in this series with three very different games. But there have been consistent themes through them all. Here are a few below-the-radar numbers to know as we head into what will be the most important game of the series thus far.
1. The Knicks are missing open shots
Through Sunday, there are 15 players who’ve shot worse than 33% on at least 30 3-point attempts in these playoffs, and five of the 15 are Knicks (the only five Knicks that have attempted at least 30 3-pointers). New York was 16-for-40 (40%) from beyond the arc in its Game 2 victory (when the Heat mostly played zone), but shot 21% and 20% from deep in its two losses.
There was definitely some stagnant offense and bad decision-making on that end of the floor on Saturday afternoon, but the Knicks are generally taking the right kinds of 3-pointers in this series, according to Second Spectrum tracking.
- 85% of their 3-point attempts over the three games, the highest rate for any team in the conference semis, have been off the catch.
- 46% of their 3-point attempts, the third-highest rate in the conference semis, have been wide open.
- 32% of their 3-point attempts, the second-highest rate in the conference semis, have come from the corners.
So that’s somewhat encouraging, even though the Knicks weren’t a very good 3-point shooting team this season. They ranked 19th in 3-point percentage (35.4%) in the regular season and their 27.8% in the playoffs is last by a healthy margin.
If they’re going to win this series, they’ll obviously have to shoot better than that going forward.
2. The Heat are working late
Game 2 of this series was slow-paced (tied for the second slowest game in these playoffs thus far) because the Heat played zone for most of the final 36 minutes. But Miami has also slowed things down with its offense.
According to Second Spectrum, 31% of the Heat’s field goal attempts have come in the last seven seconds of the shot clock. That’s up from just 16% in their series against Milwaukee and 22% (second highest) in the regular season.
Generally, late-clock shots are not good shots. In the regular season, league-wide effective field goal percentage was 60.7% in the first six seconds of the clock, 54.8% in the middle 11, and just 47.8% in the last seven. The Heat’s regular-season mark in the last seven seconds of the shot clock was just 46.4%. In this series, it’s 51.2%, though that breaks down to 66.7% (on 27 shots) in their Game 2 loss (how they kept it close despite only three transition points) and 43.5% (on 54 shots) in their two wins.
Ideally, the Heat would like to get a few more easy baskets in transition. But the Knicks have, amazingly, committed just four live-ball turnovers over the last two games (their fewest in any two-game stretch this season).
The regular-season leaders in buckets in the last four seconds of the shot clock in the last three seasons have been Julius Randle (2020-21), Jalen Brunson (’21-22) and Randle again (’22-23). But the Knicks have taken only 19% of their shots in the last seven seconds in this series (down from 26% in the first round), while the Heat have been the team working late.
3. Free throws have been the difference
Despite the Knicks’ poor shooting in Game 3, they actually outscored the Heat, 24-21, from beyond the arc. And the difference in each game of this series has been more about the free throw line than the 3-point line …
- In the Knicks’ Game 2 win, they outscored the Heat, 21-12, at the free throw line.
- In the Heat’s two wins, free throws have been in favor of Miami by margins of 23-12 and 28-16.
Of course, the Heat didn’t have Butler in Game 2, but had him in each of their two wins. In the regular season, the Heat’s star attempted 62.5 free throws for every 100 shots from the field, *the highest rate among 180 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts. Yes, higher than Antetokounmpo (60.4 per 100).
* Also the second highest rate for a player with at least 750 field goal attempts in the last five seasons, trailing only Butler’s rate of 69.3 per 100 in 2019-20.
In this series, Butler has 22 free throw attempts and 37 field goal attempts, a rate of 59.5 per 100. That’s down from his regular season rate, but the 22 attempts and 19 makes are both the most for either team … even though he didn’t play in one of the three games.
After making 12 3-pointers in the first round, Butler is 0-for-3 from beyond the arc in the conference semis. But he has still been the Heat’s leading scorer in each of their two wins. Free throws have been a big reason why, and the Knicks haven’t been able to keep up.
New York (eighth) actually ranked higher than Miami (13th) in free throw rate in the regular season, but the Heat were better at defending without fouling. And their go-to guy really knows how to get to the line.
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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