Context is everything. Take the question “What’s going on?” Apply it to the first half of the New York Knicks’ 107-90 Game 2 loss in Cleveland last night and you get a lost vibe.
After leading Game 1 most of the way, the Knicks were down 20 at the half last night. Sometimes numbers lie, but sometimes they’re relentlessly true — the Knicks deserved their plight. Darius Garland exploded for 26 points in the first half, looking very much like a guy who was not once mindfully fouled on his way to those 26. Like backcourt mate Donovan Mitchell, Garland is adept at cooking for himself or feeding his family.
Darius Garland's vision on display.— NBA (@NBA) April 18, 2023
NYK/CLE off to the races on TNT! pic.twitter.com/av3paJERt2
The Cavs, expectedly, came out with the ferocity befitting a team playing a virtual must-win game and winning the game in a first half that saw them double-up the Knicks from deep and the charity stripe, all while squaring the battle on the glass, a win for them after Game 1’s disparity. After cycling through one distasteful option at the 3-spot after another Saturday, the Cavaliers got Good Caris LeVert last night: 24 points in 40 minutes, including four 3s.
The Knicks hit intermission with as many field goals as turnovers, and more than twice as many giveaways as assists. The Steve Kerr Warriors are 6-5 in playoff games where they’ve committed 20+ turnovers; for most teams, it’s a losing proposition. Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett were a combined 13 of 44 shooting. That plus 22% from distance is no way to go through life. Confirming the first 24 were no aberration, New York spent the last 24 down between 16 and 29 points. Cleveland couldn’t retroactively win Game 1 last night, but they did their best to repudiate it.
And yet, again . . . context. Sometimes “What’s going on?” gives a whole other vibe. The Knicks lost the game, but not their advantages.
Say it again: the Cavaliers essentially had to win last night’s game. A loss would’ve put them down 0-2 with three of the next four games at Madison Square Garden — never the kismet of choice for a young team making its first playoff run together. Besides Brunson, there isn’t a Knick who’s faced a foe in that position before. There’s a lotta learning going on in real time, for both teams.
Cleveland hopes LeVert will continue to shine, but that also means demoting Isaac Okoro (1 of 9 shooting over two games) to a Cavs bench that’s already the room in the house you don’t want the guests seeing. Tom Thibodeau got a lotta heat for leaving his starters in so late in a blowout, and it could’ve boiled over had Randle not survived this recklessly stupid foul by Jarrett Allen.
Jarrett Allen with the HARD foul on Randle in garbage time... pic.twitter.com/Qe0ZSD1mcQ— Knicks Fan TV (@KnicksFanTv) April 19, 2023
I’d wondered at the end of the third quarter how long Thibs would leave his big guns in for the fourth. I started freaking out about it before Randle was fouled, though by the time that happened I figured the reasoning was along the lines of what Thibodeau said after the game.
Tom Thibodeau was asked what the thinking was in having Julius Randle on the floor down 20 late in 4th when Randle went down hard after a Jarrett Allen foul. Thibodeau said he was going to sub Randle out a few possessions earlier but Randle had asked to stay in to get more rhythm— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) April 19, 2023
If you really wanna point fingers, point them at Allen for risking Randle’s health to protect a 23-point lead with under 2:30 to play. Or consider that J.B. Bickerstaff had LeVert and his Big Four starters all play 35-40 minutes, something only Brunson did for New York. If Thibodeau was being careless with his best players, wasn’t Bickerstaff, too?
Vasily Chuikov was the Russian general who led the effort at Stalingrad, possibly the most brutal battle in human history and one that turned the war against the Germans for good. In prior battles during the war, Chuikov lost many men to long-distance German attacks. He learned from those losses how the enemy liked to fight, from which Chuikov, defending a city the Luftwaffe had bombed to rubble, designed an urban warfare that made the battle one fought literally one room at a time. The close range of the fighting prevented the Germans from using their favored artillery, since their own men would be at risk. It was while Chuikov was losing that what it’d take to win first took shape in him.
In the first seven quarters of this series, Immanuel Quickley missed seven of eight shots and scored just five points. No Knick has looked less himself than IQ, so much so he’s looked less comfortable against Cleveland than he did his rookie year versus Atlanta. Last night Quick played the whole fourth, making 3 of 5 from the field for 10 points and getting to the line four times. He’s seen how the Cavs want to attack him. Was last night the beginning of Quickley figuring out his counter-attack? Getting him back in form could be just the spinach Popeye needs.
Quoth 8 Ball: “What is going on?” Hard to say, man. Playoff emotions swing for the fences. After Game 1 and Giannis Antetokounmpo hurting his back I’m wondering if I’d rather face Boston or Philadelphia in the conference finals. After Game 2 I’m having 2021 Hawks flashbacks, where the other team wins in a way that looks so comprehensive it’s like depression and brain freeze rolled into one. We’ll have a better sense what’s going on after Cleveland gets a taste of MSG tomorrow night. It’s a late start, 8:30. In the city that never sleeps, that’s more time to get hyped.