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Knicks 109, Cavs 91: Scenes from better defense plus better shooting equaling a better outcome

Five Knicks score double-digit points in a mis-matched win.

New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

This Halloween, my six-year-old decided to trick-or-treat as a Lego brick. My wife and I assembled a homemade cardboard costume–complete with a lego-piece hat–and then painted our creation. Our paint was cheap, though, and the cardboard used for the Lego nubs had a slick coating. The end result was sorta streaky, and not especially pretty, but Rowan was happy. His parents called it a win.

The experience was not unlike the Knicks’ (2-2) game tonight at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. In the spirit of the holiday, the Cavaliers’ shooting was mostly gruesome, and their squad had more injuries than a Friday the 13th flick. With Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen, and Caris LeVert out, Cleveland (1-3) rolled out a starting line-up of Donovan Mitchell, Max Strus, Isaac Okoro, Dean Wade, and Evan Mobley. Despite being the held together by bandages and glue, the Cavs were given a 55% chance of winning by Yeah, right.

The healthy Cavs shot 39% from the field and barely 26% from three. The Knicks, on the other hand, shot 44% and 38%, had five players score in double-digits, played respectable defense throughout, and collected a 109-91 victory. Here’s how.

First Quarter

I was handing out candy, but early on, the Knicks looked good from what I could see. Brunson, Barrett, and Grimes all attacked the rim. Here Jalen connects with a jumper from the elbow:

And here’s RJ, adding three more toward that 5,000 point mark.

By midway through the quarter, the Knicks had played tight defense and held the Cavs to 33% from the field. The Ohio Players sorely miss Garland. It didn’t help matters that Donovan Mitchell, hampered by a sore hamstring, was not nearly as fleet of foot as usual. Spida had a quiet first quarter, managing only six points on 3-of-6 shooting from the field.

A 13-3 run gave Cleveland a brief lead, which Immanuel Quickley promptly erased with a triple. Cleveland’s bench of Niang, Emoni Bates (R), Tristan Thompson, and Craig Porter JR (R) were an energetic bunch, combining for 3-of-8 from deep. Thanks to their efforts, the Knicks closed the quarter up by only four, 28-24.

Second Quarter

I was still dispensing candy from my front door. My son returned from trick-or-treating with enough sugar in his system to power on through til dawn. It promises to be a long night.

Donovan Mitchell didn’t start the second quarter with J.B. Bickerstaff being cautious about that hamstring. Meanwhile, the Knicks continued to bump along. Jalen Brunson coasted tonight, RJ played well again, and New York’s bench is clearly superior to Cleveland’s reserves, especially with the Cavaliers so depleted.

It doesn’t get much better than this. Great defense, pace, ball movement, and follow-through:

The Knicks stretched the lead to 10 points. Donovan Mitchell checked back in around the six minute mark and promptly collected five points. He was attacking, but tentative. His team went on a 10-1 run to cut the deficit to three before Quentin Grimes drilled a triple, his first of the night. Grimes would finish with five points on 2-of-4 shooting in 22 minutes. That can’t be the gameplan, right?

If Spida lacked the legs for long-ranging shooting, he drove to the rim instead. He’s usually good at generating three-point plays and burned the twice that way this quarter.

Julius Randle scored his third field goal with a little over two minutes left in the quarter. Randle attacked Mobley, to mixed results. Julius finished the half with a tidy 12 points, six boards, two dimes, and no turnovers on 4-of-9 shooting. Randle, Brunson, and Barrett were all in double-figures at the half.

The Knicks entered intermission with a 58-52 lead. They had shot 21-of-47 (45%) from the floor and 8-of-19 (42%) from deep. Compare that to Cleveland’s 40% and 25% (5-of-20 from deep).

And for fun . . . Max Strus: 1-of-5 FG, 0-of-4 3PT.

If not for Mitchell’s 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, the Cavs would have really been in a hole. Here’s how the Knicks spread their shooting around in the first two frames:

Knicks first-half shot chart

Third Quarter

My door is closed to trick-or-treaters, the porch light is off, and I’m grazing from the candy bowl. My wife is handling the bedtime routine, and I can hear our son chattering like a monkey upstairs. It takes a team effort to get these postgame reports to you, fam.

The Cavs came out of intermission with a mandate to the attack the paint. The Cavs put up four points and Thibs called a timeout. The Knicks steadied themselves. Neither team imposed its will on the other through the quarter, however. In the heart of it, the Knicks went three-plus minutes without a field goal; in turn, the Cavs went six minutes without a bucket. Rough stuff. Thanks to an 11-1 run and some encouraging defense, the Knicks pushed ahead by 14 points with five left on the clock. Cleveland couldn’t hit a three to save their lives, and shot from the field nearly as poorly.

Quickley got a nice run at the end of the frame, and the Knicks closed with an 86-68 advantage.

Fourth Quarter

My stomach hurts. My teeth hurt. How did this pile of wrappers on the side table get so high?

Sloppy play let the Cavs cut the lead to 13 in two minutes. For the second consecutive quarter, Thibs needed a fast timeout with the lead . . . something. Can’t read my sugar-jagged handwriting here. Anyhow, the breather helped, as did some nice ball movement, a brawny effort from Hartenstein, and a pair of triples from Quickley.

At the five minute mark, Bickerstaff waved a white flag and emptied his bench.

Important to note and maybe not expressed above: once again, Mitchell Robinson was the best center on the floor. When he sat, Hartenstein held his ground admirably. Is there a better starter/reserve center tandem in the NBA? Name it.

New York’s top scorers: Brunson (19), Randle (19), Quickley (18), Barrett (16), and Hartenstein (13). Ten rebounds for Randle, and seven apiece for Robinson and Hartenstein. Balanced? You betcha. Also notable: the Knicks took 25 free throws to Cleveland’s 12. And Donovan Mitchell added only six second-half points to his total, finishing with 26.

Wins feel so good. Much better than this gut full of candy.

Up Next

Same team, different venue, same results? The Knicks and Cavs square off again tomorrow at Madison Square Garden. Tonight’s game wasn’t flawless, but the better team finished on top. If tomorrow’s tilt features the same cast—and the same miserable shooting by the Cavs—our heroes will win again.

We’ll see if I have any candy left in the house by then. Sleep tight, Knickerbockers.

Box Score