This time, the Knicks did not let one get away. This time, the Knicks beat a good team that featured one of the elite players in the NBA.
The Knicks used a good ol’ formula of tough defense and strong work in the paint and on the boards as they knocked off Donovan Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers, 92-81 at Madison Square Garden Sunday night.
Jalen Brunson led the Knicks with 23 points and made some huge plays down the stretch. Julius Randle had 18 points while Isaiah Hartenstein and Miles McBride gave the Knicks some solid minutes off the bench. The Knicks back up center had 9 rebounds, 6 on the offensive end that he converted into some huge putbacks in the third and fourth quarters. McBride did not score but was a +8 as he brought some defensive intensity to the floor in the second half.
The Cavaliers star guard scored 23 points but was 8 for 22 from the field, including 2 for 11 from three. Quentin Grimes was not an offensive factor (4 points on 2 of 8 shooting) but, like Mitchell, he played 40 minutes and he made things difficult for the Cavaliers star guard.
The Knicks (11-13) had their best defensive effort of the season. Tom Thibodeau’s club held Cleveland to 34% from the field and 23% (8 for 35) from three. It was the first time all season that the Knicks held an opponent under 100 points.
The Knicks didn’t exactly “shoot the eyes out” (41% overall, 17% from three) but they made enough clutch baskets down the stretch to hold off the Cavaliers.
Three point shooting just wasn’t there in this one so the inside game and winning the board battle would be key. The Knicks outrebounded Cleveland 54-39 and they had 14 offensive rebounds that led to a 17-5 advantage in second chance points.
The Cavaliers were without their big man, Jarrett Allen and the Knicks took advantage as they dominated the points in the paint by a 56-40 margin.
The Knicks led 34-16 in the second quarter but the Cavaliers cut it to 46-43 at the half. Cleveland (15-9) came in hot, having won 7 of their past 9 games, while the Knicks came into this game having lost five in a row at home so even though they had an eight point lead entering the fourth quarter, the spectre of blowing another lead at home certainly creeped into the minds of the 19,007 at the Garden.
It was not to be. The Knicks had 20 turnovers but 19 of those came in the first three quarters and only one in the fourth quarter, which was a big reason why they were able to pull this game out.
“For us, I think how we responded when they cut that lead in the first half,” Brunson said. “Started the third quarter well, it’s all signs for us that we’re moving in the right direction.”
There were whistles aplenty as the teams totaled 37 turnovers including 13 traveling violations. It was the highest number of traveling calls in a game this season. “There’s an emphasis on it by the league. I think it’s good for the most part, except I think you have to be consistent in the way in which you call it. If it’s tight for one team, its gotta be tight for the other team,” Thibodeau said.
After Mitchell’s lay up made it 86-81 Knicks, Brunson made a clutch bucket with less than two minutes left to put the Knicks back up by seven. A careless turnover by Cleveland’s Darius Garland gave the Knicks the ball and Julius Randle capped off the possession with a dunk to make it 90-81 with a little under 90 seconds left.
After a Cleveland turnover, Mitchell Robinson played an active role as he twice kept a Knicks possession alive with pure hustle in the final minute. The Knicks did not end up scoring, but Robinson’s effort ran some precious time off the clock.
“We sustained the effort from start to finish,” Thibodeau said. “They [Cavaliers] put a lot of pressure on you, you can’t let your guard down. I like the way we played. I thought we played very unselfish offensively and it was a good win”
Derrick Rose and Cam Reddish did not play as Thibodeau went with a nine man rotation. “Less people in the rotation, so that gives you a better rhythm, so that’s why we went to nine,” Thibodeau said.
The Knicks will look to build off this win on Wednesday night when they host the Atlanta Hawks. Brunson has already put this one in the rear view mirror. “You can’t be satisfied with what we did tonight,” he said. “It’s not just gonna happen against the next night, our next game, you gotta make it happen.”