If Friday’s game was a preview of what is coming in the playoffs, then we can all be very happy and excited about what will hit MSG in a couple of weeks.
The New York Knicks (45-33) visited their first-round opponents Cleveland Cavaliers (48-30) and demolished them 130-116 on the road, earning their 45th victory of the season and virtually locking into the no. 5 seed in the East.
Only a miraculous development (NYK losing all games left, MIA winning theirs, BKN forcing a three-way tie) would change the short-term, postseason fate of your Knickerbockers.
Did I mention New York couldn’t count on Julius Randle, started Obi Toppin, and enjoyed a Jalen Brunson career night?
Before tip-off, coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t scared just one bit about these things. “We don’t have to change anything, because really, the offense is managed by Jalen,” he said. He knew. Coach knew.
Not even a little moment of love shared between RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin could break the fancy visiting vibes arriving at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, OH.
Said Toppin: “We’re brothers. And we’re good. We discussed it.”
Said RJ: “We’re good. We see each other basically every day. You tell me that you haven’t had an argument with a family member before... You know what I’m saying? You had an argument with a family member before, that’s all it was. Right after the timeout we squashed it. I think he scored six straight points after that, so something worked.”
Obi and RJ peaced it up pic.twitter.com/Mbvcumuex8— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) April 1, 2023
In a game in which defenses stayed home, New York outscored Cleveland when it mattered the most and put the clamps on the Cavs in a final period your Knicks won 25-14.
And in such an offensive-packed matchup, of course, Brunson reigned supreme dumping 48 points—a career-high this close to becoming a 50-burger—on the Cavs’ foreheads.
“Who wouldn’t [want to score 50]?” acknowledged Brunson after the game. “I was going to hold the ball out, but they doubled, and I guess that means keep playing. No disrespect to them. They played to the buzzer. I have the most respect in the world for that coaching staff. You got to keep playing.”
We cool, JB, we cool.
Brunson scored 48 on 32 (!) field-goal attempts hitting 7-of-12 bangers from beyond the three-point arc. Nobody else donning New York’s threads topped 14 points, but as many as seven of the nine Knicksmen involved in the game reached double figures.
“There is nothing that Jalen does that surprises you,” Thibs said. “He’s so mentally tough. He’s nicked up a little bit, but he’s a machine. He just keeps going.”
Obi Toppin in rarefied air starting for the New York Knicks yesterday pic.twitter.com/6EPVF18ixM— Antonio Losada (@chapulana) April 1, 2023
Toppin, starting at the four, finished the game with an über-efficient 12 points going 5-of-7 overall and hitting the two three-pointers he hoisted without reaching 20 minutes. Mitchell Robinson, the other biggie, cooked himself a 10-14 double-double while stealing two rocks and swatting a couple of shots.
“Everybody on this team is capable of stepping up and helping the team win,” Toppin said post-game. “Whenever my name is called, I’m ready, that’s it.”
Barrett and Quentin Grimes contributed 14 points each, and so did Immanuel Quickley leading the bench mob in points and minutes followed closely by Josh Hart’s 11 pops in one fewer minute (29 to IQ’s 30).
“It’s always a next-man-up mentality,” Barrett said. “Tonight, Jalen had . Next game, it’s gonna be someone else. We’ll figure it out.”
So far, so good for the Knicks. The Knicks who, by the way, endured a monster night by a certain Donovan Mitchell as the guard led the Cavs himself with 42 points, five dimes, and four rebounds. Brunson was better yesterday, and so was/is New York not having chased a trade last summer that could have ended up in who knows what.
For Brunson, defending Mitchell on Friday was “not fun,” reasoning that the Cavs guard is “capable of doing that any given time, at any point in the game.” Brunson added that Mitchell is “special for a reason.”
Speaking after the game, Thibodeau remembered media members attending his presser that “you guys have seen it all year.” He kept going, praising Brunson: “He’s nicked up a little bit, but he’s a machine. He just keeps going. And I think that’s the best leadership you could have. It’s not phony, it’s not fake. It’s not disingenuous. That’s who he is. He’s authentic. He cares about the team and he cares about winning.”
Our own Russell Richardson already let you know about it in his comprehensive recap: “It’s Brunson’s fourth 40+ game of the season. Prior to this campaign, Jalen had never topped 40 points in an NBA game.“
The folks from ESPN pointed out another interesting fact: “New York is one of five East teams—and four in the Atlantic Division—with a winning road record.”
After this win, the postseason-bound New York Knickerbockers reduced their sixth-seed magic number to one. With four games left in the schedule and matchups against Washington, Indiana (twice), and New Orleans, it will just inevitably happen sooner or later.
Thibs also mentioned Randle, saying the forward “has done all he can to prepare himself to play in every game” before going down injured a few days ago. “He doesn’t miss practice. He doesn’t miss games. I’m actually surprised [getting injured] doesn’t happen more than it does,” said the coach.
As you already know, Ju will be re-evaluated at the end of the regular season, and we’ll know more then.
The playoffs should tip-off on April 14/15th for the Knicks, so there is a chance Randle plays in G1 of the series against the Cavs if everything goes a bit better than according to plan... or that he misses one (or more) first-round games if that’s not the case.
Let’s proceed one game at a time, though. Next one happening on Sunday when your boys will be hosting a contingent arriving from Washington D.C. to play basketball at MSG. Tip-off at 6:00 ET. Don’t miss it.