Editor’s note: I told Russell yesterday he had the Cleveland recap. But my brain is getting old and bitter, so I completely forgot about that and wrote my RJ-centric thing last night. Here is Russell’s recap, the one you need and deserve.
Cavalier fans filled the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to capacity for Sunday evening’s match-up with the New York Knicks (3-3). According to Walt Frazier and Mike Breen, the venue had a “playoff-like atmosphere,” due in no small part to the presence of Donovan Mitchell, who proved his value tonight, smacking down the Knicks 121-108.
The Knicks had pursued the three-time All-Star heavily in the off-season, and this was their first chance to see him in the wine and gold. The Mitchell-led Cavs (5-1) have gotten off to a ferocious start. They last played on Friday, in an overtime victory that saw him and fellow guard Caris LeVert each drop 41 on the Celtics. Not only is Donovan a star, his surrounding cast ain’t shabby either.
Before tonight’s game, the Cavs were second in the league with a net-rating of 11.5 — though New York wasn’t far behind in fifth at 4.7. This game had all the makings of an exciting contest, with two top-10 defenses, the Mitchell storyline, Jalen Brunson blossoming as lead Knick, and New York tied for third-most points scored per game (119.8). Add the fact that the Cavs are shorthanded at the guard position, with Darius Garland and Ricky Rubio sidelined by injuries, and the Knicks had a fighting chance in this one.
They started slowly yet again, going 0-for-5 before Julius Randle scored their first points. Donovan Mitchell drew first blood with a 29-foot three-point jumper. He went 3-for-4 from downtown early, to help goose the Cavs to a 16-11 lead by Tiibodeau’s first time out at the 6:27 mark.
Clearly, Mitchell brought emotion into this tilt, scoring 15 points in the first 11 minutes and finishing with 38 and 12 assists while shooting 12-for-20 and 8-for-13 from deep. If he held a grudge about not ending up on the team of his youth, then point taken, Spida.
RJ Barrett had probably his best shooting half of the season, going 6-for-10 from the floor, and 3-for-4 from deep. This season, RJ had been 4-for-28 (14%) from three, so this was a welcome sign of life from the Maple Mamba. His efficiency helped keep the Knicks competitive in the first half.
The Cavs shot 9-for-16 (56%) from deep in the first frame, with two from Dean Wade and five from Mitchell. The Knicks, however, had gone 5-for-8 (63%) from beyond the arc, and thanks to their accurate shooting, they were only down 35-30 at the end of Q1.
Kevin Love (aka Dorian Gray) continues to provide a spark off the Cavaliers bench. The 15-year vet chipped in 10 points in nine first-half minutes and finished with 29 in 22 minutes. For the Knicks, Obi Toppin stood out in the second quarter, with alley-oops and crafty moves, like so:
Neither team could maintain the blistering shooting accuracy, of course. The Cavs gave the Knicks opportunities — a transition take foul, a foul behind the arc — but New York left the gift points on the board and, thus, struggled to close the gap.
By halftime, New York trailed 62-59. They had shot 6-for-10 from the charity stripe and 47% from both the field and three. There were encouraging signs for the second half, though. New York had won the battle for points in the paint 28-16 and fast break points 14-11, and committed only five turnovers.
Randle and Brunson came out like gangbusters after intermission, combining for six quick points and sharp passing that powered New York to a 67-65 lead and forcing J. B. Bickerstaff to call a quick timeout. That breather couldn’t slow the Brunson and Randle train, though, and they opened up an eight-point lead.
By the end of the third, the Knicks had upped the margin to nine, 93-84. They outscored the Cavs 34-22 with an electrifying 19-point turnaround. (h/t/Mike Breen)
Mitchell Robinson got into foul trouble early again, with four fouls in 13 minutes. Once more, Isaiah Hartenstein filled in with extensive minutes. Despite a few defensive lapses, he played well overall and finished the game with 12 points and nine rebounds, shooting 6-for-10.
For a while tonight, Randle looked like the player we cherished two seasons ago. Crisp passing. Bully ball in the paint. Also deserving of credit was another vet, Evan Fournier, who shot 6-for-9 FG and 3-for-4 from deep, including this beauty:
Early in the fourth, a Donovan Mitchell spin-jam chipped at the Knicks’ lead and was particularly stinging. Sure, I would have loved to see him do that nightly for the Knicks. I know: spilled milk, no crying, yadda yadda . . . I won’t bring it up any more. With a four-point play shortly after the dunk, Mitchell nullified the Knicks advantage and tied the game with about seven minutes remaining.
Soon after, the Knicks gave up a second four-point play, this time to Love. Poor New York’s defense devoured their thrilling lead and left them first in a five-point hole with four minutes left, then an eleven-point trench with three to go.
Anchored by center Jarrett Allen and power forward Evan “Albatross Arms” Mobley, Cleveland’s defense was just too strong down the stretch. The Knicks were depleted after expending all that third-quarter energy. They managed only 15 fourth-quarter points. Randle reverted to last year’s version, Brunson was stymied by Cleveland’s D, Fournier’s three-pointers lost their lift, etc. Down by nine with a minute and a half to go, the Knicks threw in the towel, and even Mike Breen declared, “This one is over.”
Your final: 121-108, Cavs.
- If other metrics besides total points decided a game’s outcome, New York would have been victorious. They won on fast break points (28-14), rebounds (45-43), steals (9-3), and points in the paint (64-32). They tied the Cavs with 14 turnovers and 18 points off turnovers.
- Things got chippy between Raul Neto and Immanuel Quickley in the second quarter, with Neto committing two consecutive B.S. fouls on IQ. I struggle to recall anyone else Quickley has beefed with. Nobody, right? Correct me in the comments if I’m forgetting someone.
- This year’s Knicks aren’t greyhounds, but their pace had improved to dead-middle of the league (15th) at game-time. The Cavs, on the other hand, are slowpokes without Garland; their pace ranked 27th.
- Awful, awful Cam Reddish game. I think Thibs wanted him in the game to combat the length of the Cavalier frontcourt, but he was a total liability tonight. Quentin Grimes, we need you.
Quoth Kaisersoser37: “Damn DM with the smackdown!” Of course. Did we expect any less? The Knicks are 0-3 on the road, but fortunately, they return home to battle the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday. Better results next time, I bet. Peace til then.