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Cavaliers 126, Knicks 109: Lethargy leads to big night for Ricky Rubio

Blergh.

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Jaylen Brown, Cole Anthony, OG Anunoby and Myles Turner all had some of the best games of their careers against the Knicks this season and now we can add Ricky Rubio to that list.

Rubio came off the bench to score a career-high, 37 points on 8-9 from 3 and 13-19 overall. If it had just been him on a roll, the Knicks may have been able to salvage the game, but Evan Mobley also chipped in 26 points while Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen had 16 and 18 respectively.

The Knicks did manage to score 109 points thanks to a balanced attack led by Julius Randle’s 19, Derrick Rose’s 17, and Evan Fournier’s 15. And the bench, as has been the case for much of the season, was strong with Obi Toppin, Alec Burks, and Immanuel Quickley combining for 33 points. RJ Barrett had easily the worst night of the season going 3-13 for just 6 points and had he played the way he had the last few games, maybe the Knicks would have been able to somehow take this game. But bad games happen and the Knicks, with the talent they have, playing at home, should have been able to take this game, even with one of their stars struggling.

Last night was another case of the team just not having the energy and fight needed. So far in the early part of the season, Knicks fans have been treated to some exciting wins over some really solid teams like the Celtics, 76ers, Bulls, and most recently, the Bucks. But fans have also had to witness their team have head-scratching performances against teams they should be beating. The embarrassing performance against the Magic on the second game of a home-and-home, not being able to match the energy of the Raptors and Pacers last week, and now we can add last night’s failure to the list.

The Knicks seem to get up for the big games and then play down to competition. Other teams have done this in the past and have even gotten away with it, but the Knicks are just not good enough to do that. They are still a team looking to prove itself. Still, they manage to show up to certain games lacking the energy to beat some of these teams that fans may consider less talented. In the NBA, any team can beat any team on any given night, but the Knicks almost go out there and play like the game is played on paper. They have now lost multiple games where they were the clear favorites and many of them have been at home.

If these games were lost due to missed shots or execution errors, fine — those things can be corrected and they happen. But it is inexcusable for a team that, in the grand scheme of things, has not accomplished much, to be so lethargic this often. And it is also very surprising and unexpected to see a team coached by Tom Thibodeau play this way when just a few months ago, fans of the Knicks and around the league applauded this team for always playing hard and disciplined.

The Knicks did get off to what looked like a good start. Barrett and Randle both got a shot to go in early on in the game, Fournier looked like he was on pace for one of his best games as a Knick and the defense and energy seemed fine. When the second quarter came around, it was a bit of a back-and-forth. Rubio did start to heat up making multiple 3’s without missing but Knicks fans rejoiced as they saw Toppin continue his growth by showing off his decisiveness and aggressiveness, both clear signs of his newfound confidence.

This led to a one-point Knicks lead at halftime. Everything was fine at this point, but the second half was completely different. Rubio continued his onslaught, while the Knicks failed to get anything going on offense until late in the quarter. They were outscored by 15 (33-18) in the quarter and honestly, it felt like it was more. Rubio was hitting 3’s off the dribble, and still getting to the lane at will, meaning the defense literally didn’t take away any options. Even when he did miss, there was so much attention on Rubio that the Cavs bigs were able to clean up.

This all led to a double-digit Cavs lead, and it started to feel like it was another one of “those” games. There were multiple possessions where Mitchell Robinson would come over to contest at the rim and there was no help on the box out. And you could see some of the players being visibly frustrated, especially with Randle, who failed to rotate on a few occasions.

The bench did come in and do a great job of cutting the lead to but as the starters came back in, the lead ballooned again and the Knicks could not pull out a miracle comeback. This has some fans pleading Thibodeau to stay with the bench players more when they are mounting a comeback, especially if the starters just aren’t playing hard. This is obviously a hard call to make as a coach, because you want to ride with whoever has the hot hand, but there is also a lot of trust in your best players. But to be honest, the problem isn’t the rotations or even who finishes these games.

Opposing players have big nights on occasion, and maybe it is just an anomaly so far, but there’s now been multiple players who have had big nights, and many of them have used the long ball to do their damage. Thibs and the Knicks defense was elite last year when it came to defending the 3-point shot. They were among the league leaders in opposing-3 point percentage, mainly due to their focus and effort to run out to every shooter and contest or just straight run them off of the 3-point line.

This year, the Knicks have failed to have that same kind of effort and cohesiveness when it comes to defense in general. Fournier and Walker have been huge upgrades offensively, but it’s not even like the offense is elite. They are definitely a better 3=point shooting team but the team doesn’t seem to fit perfectly on offense. And maybe with time, this team reaches that point, but we have yet to see a game where everyone seems to be playing well and off of each other on offense. Someone always seems lost or out of rhythm. And while Walker and Fournier certainly try on defense, they just have not been that good. And it’s not all on them either. We already pointed out Randle’s lack of effort on defense at times, and guys like Robinson (especially in the Pacers game) Rose, Quickley, Burks, and Toppin have all had defensive lapses.

It needs to be stated that the upgraded offense have been nice to watch and it should only get better with time. And while fans should not necessarily panic yet. People, myself included have at times overreacted. The Knicks are 6-4 and fans are acting like they are 4-6. But still it is a bit concerning to see a team that still has so much to prove, be so inconsistent with their effort, especially on the defensive side. The onus will be on the two leaders of this team, Thibodeau, and Randle get this team to play the way it can and needs to on a more consistent basis. It’s been a weird start to the season but hopefully the Knicks start to turn it around soon. They will get their next shot do so tonight against the Sixers.