NBA playoffs: Heat become 2nd No. 8 seed ever to reach conference finals, eliminate Knicks

The Miami Heat eliminated the No. 5-seeded New York Knicks on Friday to become the second No. 8 seed ever to reach the conference finals.

Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo led Miami in the 96-92 Game 6 win, despite a massive effort from the Knicks' Jalen Brunson, at the Kaseya Center in Miami.

In 1999, the No. 8-seeded Knicks advanced to the conference finals and eventually the NBA Finals in a lockout-shortened season.

Butler had 24 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists, while Adebayo had 23 points and 9 boards as the Heat won the Eastern Conference semifinals series 4-2. The Heat await the winner of the Boston Celtics-Philadelphia 76ers series, which is headed to a Game 7 on Sunday in Boston. The Eastern Conference finals begin Wednesday.

The Heat spoiled a heroic game from Brunson. A highlight-worthy fadeaway served as an early indication he was fully recovered after playing all 48 minutes of Game 5. Scoring 41 points on 5-for-10 3-point shooting and 14-of-22 field-goal attempts, Brunson put up the most points in a playoff game by a Knicks guard in the team's history.

R.J. Barrett was aggressive in the paint for the Knicks, drawing three fouls in seven minutes. He found himself on the line again after he was fouled by Kevin Love with 5:29 remaining in the first quarter. Barrett made both of his free-throw attempts to go 8-for-8 and put the Knicks up 17-14.

After Brunson made a 26-foot jumper with 3:43 remaining, Julius Randle took center stage.

Randle drove to the basket for a made layup, despite a foul from Caleb Martin and then secured an extra point at the line. After a defensive rebound from Josh Hart, Randle made a midrange shot assisted by Brunson for back-to-back buckets.

Randle's burst put the Knicks up 31-17, forcing Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra to call a timeout with 2:40 remaining in the first.

Post-huddle, the Heat went on a 7-0 run, highlighted by Kyle Lowry making both of this free throws after he was fouled by Hart. Butler snatched a rebound on the other end of the floor, allowing Lowry to make a 3. Randle made a bad pass that was intercepted by Martin, then Butler made a quick shot for the Heat. But the Knicks were able to close the first quarter up 31-24.

Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler (22) during the first half of Game 5 of the NBA basketball Eastern Conference playoff semifinal against the New York Knicks Wednesday, May 10, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Jimmy Butler led the Heat in the Game 6 effort. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Two minutes into the second quarter, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau gave Brunson his first first rest since Game 4. It seemed like Brunson could barely take a few breaths before the Heat took full advantage of his absence.

In another unanswered flurry of buckets, Adebayo went off to help the Heat get a 37-36 lead with 7:48 remaining in the second quarter. He made a free throw after a foul from Isaiah Hartenstein, then made a jumper and a dunk.

Another bucket from Adebayo in the final minute of the second gave him 17 points headed into halftime, but Brunson responded with a floating jump shot on the other end of the floor. He was called for a foul with less than 30 seconds in the half. Free throws from Max Strus gave the Heat a 51-50 lead to close the second quarter, despite only hitting two 3s.

Starting the third quarter, Brunson and Barrett both had three fouls. In addition to having two crucial Knicks in foul trouble, the Knicks opened the period 0-of-6 from the field.

The Heat took a 74-71 lead into the fourth quarter behind Butler's strong showing.

Brunson, who became the first Knick since Patrick Ewing in 1990 to record at least 30 points in three straight playoff games, was responsible for every field goal the Knicks had in the fourth quarter, going 3-for-6 from the field and assisting a layup.

Miami had its biggest lead of the game halfway into the quarter, up 84-76 after an and-1 from Butler.

The Heat seemingly cruising toward the win, a crucial call with 59.5 seconds remaining in the game nearly swung the momentum back toward the Knicks.

Brunson was knocked across the face by Gabe Vincent, and after review, it was deemed a flagrant 1, putting Brunson on the line. Brunson made both free throws, then found Hart for a layup to cut the Heat's lead to 92-90.

Butler missed a jumper on the other end, and Hart came up with the rebound to give the Knicks life. But Lowry came up with a steal and the Knicks had to foul. Butler hit two free throws with 14.4 seconds remaining. With the Knicks trailing by 4, Quentin Grimes missed a 3-pointer with 13.5 seconds, and the Knicks' season finished with a garbage-time dunk from Brunson.

The Heat will play in their third Eastern Conference finals in four seasons after first surviving the play-in tournament, then stunning top-seeded Milwaukee in the first round.