The Miami Heat pulled off the biggest upset of the first round of the NBA playoffs with their 4-1 series win against the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks. Not only were the Bucks one of the favorites to win the championship, the Heat had to go through two rounds of play-in games to secure the eighth seed. They lost their initial play-in game against the Atlanta Hawks and then had to beat the Chicago Bulls in the next play-in game to nab a playoff berth. Jimmy Butler was brilliant throughout the series and he put up back-to-back 40 point games to close out the series. Naturally, one would assume that Butler would be the major X-factor in the second round against the New York Knicks. He is the superstar and reminding everyone just how good playoff Jimmy Butler is. But for the Heat to advance in the playoffs and beat the Knicks, their X-factor is going to be Gabe Vincent.
Heat X-factor vs. Knicks: Gabe Vincent
Gabe Vincent has been the Heat’s starting point guard for the most of the second half of the season with Kyle Lowry moving to a reserve role. The Heat front office has had a knack for finding undrafted gems who became incredibly important rotation players and Vincent is one of them. He began his Heat career in 2020 on a two-way contract and the following season he was rewarded with a standard contract.
Vincent’s production against the Knicks is going to be key. He will be matched up against Jalen Brunson who has become one of the absolute best point guards in the NBA. In the Knicks 4-1 series win against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brunson averaged 24.0 points per game, 4.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.2 steals with shooting splits of 43.7 percent from the field, 29 percent from the three-point line and 95.5 percent from the free-throw line. Slowly him down will be no easy task.
In comparison, Vincent averaged 13.0 points, 1.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists with shooting splits of 42.4 percent from the field, 42.4 percent from the three-point line and 33.3 percent from the free-throw line in the Heat’s NBA playoffs first round series win against the Bucks.
Vincent has been a good defensive player during his time with the Heat and he’s going to need to bring that same defensive intensity against Brunson and the Knicks. He’s got to be able to knock down open threes with consistency as he did against the Bucks. Out of the Heat’s starting lineup, he’s probably the one player that the Knicks may choose to help off of at times. The Knicks obviously have to pay attention to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Kevin Love is still capable of having big games and Max Strus is one of the league’s best sharpshooters. If Vincent finds his defender sagging off at any time during this series, he’s got to let that three-ball fly with confidence.
It’s isn’t unheard of for NBA coaches to start one player and close with another, and the Heat certainly have that option with Vincent and Lowry. But Erik Spolestra has trusted Vincent to close and he was on the floor during the final possessions against the Bucks in overtime of Game 5. He had a tough first round NBA playoffs matchup in Jrue Holiday and it certainly doesn’t get any easier against Brunson and the Knicks. Vincent is earning his stripes and he’ll only be better off for it in the long run.
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