Knicks face playoff elimination after Game 4 rebounding woes
The Knicks are down 3-1. Can they turn around?
Only if they can restore.
The Knicks’ good run through the postseason has been pushed to the brink. The gritty team that grabbed every loose ball and rebound went to Miami and disappeared like a barrage of people. The team that showed up at the Cassia Center on Monday was a step slow and out of place in a 109-101, Game 4 loss to the Heat that removed the Knicks one loss from elimination.
It’s no surprise that the Knicks dug a hole against a team led by Jimmy Butler, who scored 27 points on 17 shots. It’s no surprise that Tom Thibodeau’s crew is behind against a team coached by Erik Spoelstra and with postseason experience.
Surprisingly, the Heat beat the Knicks at their own game.
The Knicks, whose biggest postseason strength has been winning the battle on the glass, were either out or out. The Heat outshot the Knicks 44-35, and the Knicks shot enough to win (48.7 percent from the field) for long possession after possession to survive a night.
“We’ve got to put a body on people,” Thibodeau said after a game that was never a blowout, but felt close at times. “They’re shooting long, we’re running, and the ball is going over our heads.”
Remember that stirring five-shot sequence, during which Isaiah Hartenstein didn’t let the Knicks lose a possession, that saved the Knicks in Game 2? Surely the Heat missed it because they copied it.
The Knicks’ problems were typified during a sequence that didn’t even result in a Heat bucket. The Knicks were down 94-81 with 10:24 left in the fourth quarter when Bam Adebayo grabbed a defensive rebound. The Heat then played defense for 55 seconds, taking valuable time away from not getting shots.
Duncan Robinson bricked a 3 that led to a long rebound that Caleb Martin read better than Hartenstein and Julius Randle. The 6-foot-5 Martin anticipated that the ball would bounce long and carom back toward the foul line, and Martin got there to tip back first to Kyle Lowry.
After the reset, Lowry attempted a 3 of his own and missed long. Quentin Grimes and RJ Barrett watched the ball move instead of boxing out to Butler, who grabbed the rebound with ease. The Heat had another chance and made another look for Robinson, who made another triple — but still, the Heat’s players were in the right spot. Jalen Brunson blocked Adebayo’s arm and was called for a foul that fueled the heat. more bullet
And more Miss, this time a 3 from Martin that goes out. Lowry actually chased down the rebound, but stepped out of bounds in the process, eventually giving the ball back to the Knicks with 9:29 remaining.
The Heat didn’t score, but neither did the Knicks. The clock ticked.
“Maybe they want it more. I don’t know,” Randle said after a game in which every loose ball seemed to bounce to the Heat. “That’s what we’ve been all year, and if we want to keep this season alive we’ve got to find a way to step up and make those plays.”
Entering the game, the Knicks had outscored their opponents by an average of 46.6-38.6 in the postseason. Mitchell Robinson and Hartenstein were quietly effective and compensated for shortcomings elsewhere. Strength should have carried the Knicks against the Heat, who were the fourth-worst team in the NBA in rebounding in the regular season, a persistent problem that played a big role in Spoelstra’s group needing to just survive the playoffs. was The post season.
But the Heat thrived, surprising the Bucks and starting to surprise the Knicks in a different fashion.
The Knicks losing to the Heat is unprecedented. But the Heat out-hustling and outscoring the Knicks, as they did in Games 3 and 4, would be a disappointing way for the Knicks to go out.
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Waiting for the decision of the lineup from the return of the judge
The bigger the domino, the bigger the potential impact.
There are plenty of directions for the Yankees to go, but the return of 6-foot-7 Aaron Judge could come with suitably big repercussions.
The Yankees slugger is set to be activated from the injured list on Tuesday, when the roster will likely be crossed and the lineup will become a curiosity.
Let’s start with the roster possibilities, which range from the humdrum to the vast:
Move Oswald Peraza: Perhaps on the injured list, perhaps by moving the 22-year-old infielder to Triple-A. Peraza hasn’t played since Wednesday, when he rolled his ankle while stealing second base. He has since thrived and is running the bases, but the Yankees’ bench is short because they stockpiled a player who, even when healthy, didn’t get consistent playing time.
Peraza was called up on April 16, when Giancarlo Stanton went down, and didn’t immediately emerge as a spark before his ankle sidelined him.
Taking Peraza off the active roster is the most likely move but far from a shoo-in.
Without Josh Donaldson, the Yankees’ infield has been short. With Judge and without Peraza, versatile defenders like Isiah Kinner-Falefa and Osvaldo Cabrera will likely see more time on the dirt. Speaking of Cabrera…
Option Osvaldo Cabrera: He won the Opening Day job in left field, but didn’t run with it. He’s been in the midst of a deep slump and has often hit the ball into the ground — but certainly showed some decent height during Monday’s 7-2 win over the A’s.
Cabrera slammed his second home run of the season and raised his average to .204 in a well-timed strong performance, especially given his competition. With the Yankees taking more significant looks at corner outfielders Jake Bowers and Willie Calhoun, Cabrera’s playing time has decreased.
The Yankees, who already have a super-utilityman in Kiner-Flefa, could send Cabrera to Triple-A with a message to work on his swing before the next inevitable injury at the major league level, giving him another call. -up provides
DFA Jake Bowers or Willie Calhoun: Bowers’ Triple-A power earned him a call-up, and he’s already shown flashes of a powerful swing in the majors (falling into the field). Calhoun, whose bat the Yankees trust, has started to produce more after a slow start. It would be a big surprise to encounter discounts at this stage.
It would be a decent-sized surprise if the Yankees…
Play with a small bullpen: After Monday’s win, the Yankees optioned reliever Nick Ramirez back to Triple-A. They could activate Judge and play with 12 pitchers and 14 position players, but the guess here is another reliever — perhaps Greg Weisert — will come in with Judge today.
It would be the most eye-opening, however, if the Yankees…
DFA Aaron Hicks: His double Sunday was his first extra-base hit in 222 days. His home run on Monday represented his first hit in The Bronx all season: He’s now 1 for 20 playing in front of a crowd that usually cheers his every move.
Even with the dinger, Hicks’ .439 OPS would be the worst in baseball if he tallied enough plate appearances to qualify.
Hicks hasn’t helped defensively, and has a contract worth nearly $30 million through 2025 that hasn’t worked out for the club. Hicks has been bounced around in The Bronx, and St. Petersburg, Fla. — Bronx South — He was also mocked this weekend.
Will the Yankees, who are welcoming back one outfielder, finally get rid of the other and release Hicks? Maybe not this early — and with the less drastic options listed above — but it’s hard to imagine Hicks staying with the team all season without a role.
Asked Sunday if a related move to bring the judge back would be difficult, Boone said: “We’ll see.”
We’ll see how Boone handles the lineup as well.
The Yankees started with Anthony Volpe as their No. 9 hitter, and his mobility and club weakness elevated him to the leadoff spot. The Yankees were already without Harrison Bader when Giancarlo Stanton’s hamstring went out on April 15, so the Yankees wanted DJ LeMahieu’s bat in the middle of the lineup.
Volpe then climbed to the top of the lineup, where his speed could be elevated. He has led off in his last 20 starts.
But with Judge returning to a lineup that now features Bader — and Volpe’s silence with the bat — there is intrigue about the order. Volpe is just 6 for 39 (.154) with a .195 on-base percentage over his last 10 games. His base stealing ability has turned singles into triples, but he hasn’t reached base often enough to maximize it.
Will Boone stick with Volpe at the top, put LeMahieu and Bader up the middle and hope his promising young shortstop gets more consistency? Or will LeMahieu return to the leadoff spot with Volpe, perhaps sinking back to No. 9?
We will soon find out. The machinations of the daytime roster can be more interesting than the night game.
Starling lose a step?
There are many possible alibis for Starling Marte’s literally slow start. He is undergoing both hip surgeries. He has been managing a neck issue for most of the first five-plus weeks of the season.
Marte and the Mets should hope he is hurt because these injuries are easier to overcome than normal aging.
Marte, who could drop down in the lineup, isn’t struggling at the plate with just a .569 OPS. The numbers that clearly show when an older player slows down are showing that the 34-year-old Marte is slowing down.
Statcast measures sprint speed in feet per second. Here are Marte’s averages over his nine major league seasons:
2015: 29.6 ft/sec, 16th in MLB
2016: 29.0 ft/sec, 46th in MLB
2017: 28.8 ft/sec, 66th in MLB
2018: 28.6 ft/sec, 83rd in MLB
2019: 29.0 ft/s, 53rd in MLB
2020: 28.4, ft/sec, 54th in MLB
2021: 28.4, ft/sec, 106th in MLB
2022: 28.0, ft/s, 182nd in MLB
2023: 26.4, ft/sec, 247th in MLB
The drop off has been very high in this season. He is slow on his feet and slow with his first steps. Last season, he ranked 58th out of 104 qualifying outfielders in reaction time. This season, Marte was ranked 72nd out of 95 (entering Monday’s game).
Maybe Marte is still gaining strength and health, which would be understandable. Or maybe he’s started to decline in the second season of a four-year, $78 million contract.
The old adage about a player “missing a step” has been measured, and the early return from Marte is at least about that.