Just when it looked as if the Miami Heat were going to open a little bit of breathing room atop the Eastern Conference, the New York Knicks had other ideas.
And a stunning rally might set the stage for some down-the-stretch chaos.
Immanuel Quickley scored 20 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, leading a huge comeback that carried the Knicks past the reeling Heat, 111-103 on Friday night.
RJ Barrett scored 18 points for the Knicks, who trailed by 17 points with 11 minutes left before closing on a 38-13 run and handing Miami a third consecutive loss — all of them against teams who were missing top players.
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“These guys have been great," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “They've been practicing well, they're playing winning basketball and we just want to keep getting better."
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 30 points. Kyle Lowry and Bam Adebayo each added 17 for Miami, which was again without Tyler Herro and saw its East lead trimmed to a half-game over idle Milwaukee.
New York turned 18 offensive rebounds into 28 second-chance points.
“A lot of bad bounces, in my opinion," Adebayo said. “Collectively, just got to get in the trenches again, look at film and bounce back."
Markieff Morris opened the fourth quarter with a basket for Miami that gave the Heat a 90-73 lead — their largest of the night.
Things changed quickly. Or Quickley, to be precise.
Quickley scored eight points in 58 seconds — two 3-pointers sandwiched around two free throws — to get the lead right back down to single digits, and the Knicks cranked up the defense. Miami missed 11 of its next 12 shots, the Knicks getting stop after stop and chipping away at what was left of the lead.
Obi Toppin added 15 points for New York, which is five games behind the final play-in tournament spot with eight games remaining.
“Every day, we just try to get better," Quickley said.
The approach worked Friday.
Quickley hit a short jumper to tie the game, Quentin Grimes made a 3-pointer on the next possession and the Knicks — to the delight of plenty of New York faithful who always make their way to Knicks games in Miami — had come all the way back to grab the lead.
The Heat lost to Philadelphia on Monday night, even though the 76ers weren’t playing Joel Embiid or James Harden. They lost to Golden State on Wednesday night, with the Warriors without Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
And this loss to the Knicks came with plenty of New York players sidelined, most notably Julius Randle. It leaves four teams in the East — Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Boston — all with either 27 or 28 losses, meaning the No. 1 seed is in play for all those clubs.
Knicks: Randle missed his third consecutive game with a sore right quadriceps tendon. “Julius just needs a little more time,” Thibodeau said. ... It was the fourth-largest comeback of the season for New York. The Knicks rallied from 20 down against Sacramento on March 7, 21 down against Milwaukee on Nov. 5 and 25 down against Boston on Jan. 6.
Heat: Butler got his 1,000th assist in a Miami uniform, the 14th player to reach the milestone. Only Tim Hardaway, Sherman Douglas and LeBron James did it faster than Butler, who got there in his 161st game with the club. ... Adebayo has now made at least 50% of his shots in nine consecutive games, one away from matching his single-season career best streak.
Lowry turned 36 on Friday. He’s now 0-6 on his birthdays — five of those losses in the NBA, the other a 67-66 loss by Villanova to North Carolina in the 2005 NCAA tournament at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, when his 3-pointer in the final seconds wasn’t enough to save the Wildcats.
Miami and New York have met 130 times in regular-season play — and the Knicks kept the all-time lead, which is now 66-64. The Heat were bidding for their eighth sweep of the Knicks and the second such instance of it happening in back-to-back years, after doing it in 2004-05 and 2005-06 as well.
Knicks: Visit Detroit on Sunday.
Heat: Host Brooklyn on Saturday.
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