Heat, Butler make another playoff statement, pushing past Knicks in series opener, 108-101

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NEW YORK — The opponent changed, the magic continues.

The team that required two chances just to survive the play-in round, entering the NBA playoffs as the No. 8 seed at the bottom of the Eastern Conference bracket, is now three victories from consecutive appearances in the conference finals.

No, nothing as dramatic as pushing past the No. 1-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, as they did in five games in the first round, but the Miami Heat made another statement Sunday.

This time it was overcoming a 12-point deficit to take a 1-0 lead over the New York Knicks in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals with a 108-101 victory at Madison Square Garden.

With Jimmy Butler again in playoff mode, the Heat made it a second consecutive series of stealing homecourt advantage, having done it two weeks earlier at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.

Butler led the Heat with 25 points and 11 rebounds, supported by 20 points from Gabe Vincent, 18 from Kyle Lowry and 16 from Bam Adebayo.

The Knicks, playing in the injury absence of All-Star forward Julius Randle, got 26 points from R.J. Barrett, 25 from Jalen Brunson and 18 from Obi Toppin.

Five Degrees of Heat from Sunday’s game:

— 1. Closing time: The Knicks, getting 11 first-quarter points from Barrett, took a 32-21 lead into the second period. New York then extended its lead to 12 in the second period before the Heat closed within 55-50 at the intermission.

The Heat then put together a 21-5 run in the third period to eventually move to an 81-75 lead entering the fourth.

From there, the Heat extended their lead to nine, before the Knicks clawed with three with 4:33 to play.

But soon the Heat were up 104-94 with 2:53 left, taking care of the lead from there.

— 2. Butler’s day: Butler landed awkwardly when fouled by the Knicks’ Josh Hart with 5:05 to play and the Heat up three.

The entire Heat bench then walked to his side during that timeout, with Butler eventually rising and trying to walk it off. By rule, he had to shoot the free throws to remain in the game.

He converted both and remained in.

After averaging 37.6 points against the Bucks in the first round, Butler was limited to 11 points in Sunday’s first half.

But that didn’t mean he took a passive stance, up to seven rebounds by halftime.

Hart, primarily a reserve for the Knicks since his acquisition at the midseason trade deadline, got the initial defensive assignment against Butler, with Quentin Grimes playing off New York’s bench.

Butler had 19 points going into the fourth. In a twist from the norm, Butler then started the fourth, with the Heat having been idle the previous three days.

— 3. Love is Love: Three times in the third quarter veteran Heat power forward Kevin Love connected on court-length passes for assists after defensive rebounds, once to Max Strus and twice to Butler.

Love actually hit Butler on a fourth such pass in that sequence, but Butler was unable to convert in transition.

Love’s assists, each of which traveled at least 60 feet, culminated the 21-5 run that pushed the Heat to an eight-point lead.

Love’s passes came in front of Aaron Rodgers, whose New York Jets tenure included consecutive nights at the Garden, also at the New York Rangers’ victory on Saturday night.

— 4. Vincent’s boost: Vincent hardly was shy at the outset, attempting 10 first-quarter shots, including eight 3-pointers.

He stood with a team-high 14 points at halftime, including a four-point play, but also without an assist at that stage.

He then came around with his playmaking in the second half, while also playing up defensively, with the assignment against Barrett.

— 5. Randle out: Both teams were without starters, with the Knicks confirming an hour prior to tip-off that Randle was out with a sprained ankle. The Heat played their fifth consecutive game without starting shooting guard Tyler Herro, who broke his right hand in the series opener two weeks ago against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.

Randle last week aggravated the sprain initially sustained in his team’s March 29 home victory over the Heat. Randle left the Knicks’ series-clinching Game 5 opening-round victory Wednesday night over the Cleveland Cavaliers and had been receiving treatment leading up to Sunday’s decision.

Herro was with the team, despite being out at least another month. The Heat also were without backup guard Victor Oladipo, who was sidelined in Game 3 of that opening-round series, with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee.

Toppin started in place of Randle, with Strus again starting in place of Herro.