It is important in any competition — chess; war; raising a puppy — to gain the first advantage. Such is playoff basketball, where the New York Knicks took early control of their series opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers, held out while entropy entropied, and held on for the win, 101-97. The Knicks lead the best-of-7 quarterfinals one game to none. Nobody ever calls it the “quarterfinals,” but it is. Try it on. See if you like it.
The game opened with a swirl of striking storylines: Jalen Brunson fouling the Dickens out of the Cavs and Julius Randle looking like his sprained ankle and the last 17 days of our lives never happened. Brunson sat out most of the first half with three fouls; in the second half he had no fouls, and the Cavaliers had no way to stop him. Brunson led the Knicks with 27 points. In a first half where Brunson couldn’t stay on the floor and Immanuel Quickley was missing all his shots and lobbing INTs like Zach Wilson, Randle slipped back into his boss shoes like he was sliding into the Caribbean. His game-clinching offensive rebound in the final seconds was emblematic of the biggest difference between the teams in game one: on the offensive and defensive glass, the Knicks smashed the Cavs.
Tom Thibodeau went to his bench early in both halves, which is either the chicken or the egg part of New York’s reserves outscoring Cleveland’s 37-14. The runners had success in this game; not coincidentally, Josh Hart was also one of the Knicks’ three stars on the night. His 3 with the shot clock running down and less than two minutes to go gave the Knicks the lead for good. Recap to come. Let the joy settle, babes. Let it linger.