After the Knicks went down 3-1 in this Heat series, Randle questioned the team’s desire.
“Maybe they want it more,” Randle said in response to a question about the Knicks’ poor offensive rebounding and little aggression for loose balls. “I don’t know. That’s who we’ve been all year, and we’ve got to find a way to step up and make those plays if we want to keep this season alive.”
The Knicks responded in Game 5, holding off a late comeback attempt from the Heat in a game when Brunson looked like the best player on either team.
While the loss on Friday was particularly disappointing since it seemed the Knicks could have made a deeper run, they still overachieved this season, and performances like Brunson’s in Game 5 are a sign that this team has some of the right pieces moving forward.
Last season, the Knicks finished 11th in the East, with questions about the futures of Coach Tom Thibodeau and Randle. In the off-season, the Knicks, as usual, missed out on the top free agents and didn’t trade for Mitchell, who has said he thought the Jazz would deal him to the Knicks, not the Cavaliers. Instead, the Knicks signed Brunson, a former Dallas guard, in a move that cost them a 2025 second-round pick for tampering.
With Brunson, the Knicks became one of the more surprising teams in the N.B.A. this season, as Brunson and Randle formed an exciting one-two punch. Beating Mitchell’s team in the first round was something of a statement to those who have questioned the Knicks’ decision not to trade for him.
“Being here, we’re playing with house money,” Teddy Foran, 24, who grew up in Stamford, Conn., said after Game 1 against the Heat. He became a Knicks fan while watching games with his father growing up.
He added: “What we did in the off-season with keeping the young core was great. Not selling out for Donovan, as you see, if you sell out for Donovan, you’ll lose in five in the first round. So you know if we lose the second round, it’s all right.”
Many fans had gathered and partied on Seventh Avenue after wins as Brunson and Randle guided the Knicks on their deepest playoff run since 2013, when they also lost in the second round. The team last made it to the N.B.A. finals in 1999 and the conference finals in 2000. But maybe these Knicks have finally done enough to make this team attractive to the marquee star players they have desperately been chasing and missing out on each off-season.
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