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Game 3 Preview: Cavaliers at Knicks- 04/21/23

Knicks return home for a must-win game

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at New York Knicks Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s move on from that embarrassing Game 2, shall we? The Knicks return home to Madison Square Garden to have the backing of their rabid fanbase. There’s only one other fanbase in the NBA that rivals the Knicks: the Sacramento Kings. Sacramento's fanbase was like a sixth man in the first two games of their series against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. While the makeup of the two fanbases couldn't be more opposed, they both have survived decades of ineptitude, remaining loyal. But the Knicks have to earn their fan's support.

After coaching an elite Game 1, Tom Thibodeau fell back into his worst habits, failing to adjust to J. B. Bickerstaff’s adjustments of blitzing Jalen Brunson when he has the ball. This forced the Knicks into 17 turnovers, forcing the ball out of the hands of the Knicks' best driving player. The Knicks can not win this series if they can’t counter Bickerstaff’s plan to force Brunson to defend ball screens. The Cavs have targeted Brunson on 22 ball screens in just two games. That number is four times the amount he faced with the Mavs last post-season. It’s resulted in 1.57 points per possession, a staggering amount that will only rise if not countered. Thibs must adjust, or this series could take a severe turn for the worst.

How should he do this? By letting go of his original game plan and changing on the fly, something he has seemed immune to over his career. It’s time to switch on defense, allowing Brunson's teammates to take on Cleveland’s dynamic guards in on-ball situations. Will it happen? Probably not, as the Knicks ranked last in switching per 100 possessions this season. LOL, the ultimate “Thibs be Thibbin.” The best counter is Immanuel Quickley, and Quentin Grimes wake the hell up and stop being pedestrian on offense. Quickley has looked like a shell of himself. He has to wake up and become the mid-range assassin he was, knocking down floaters will deconstruct the Cavs' ability to collapse on Brunson.

Part of the equation is Thibs scheming his two best perimeter defenders, RJ Barrett and Grimes, to continuously set picks, peeling off larger, longer defenders like Cedi Osman (who is questionable tonight) and Isaac Okoro (who will certainly return to the rotation should Osman sit) until Brunson has one of the Cavs two 6’1 guards on him. The other half is the other guys just have to hit shots. Only Isaiah Hartenstein was anything close to “good” in Game Two. Randle, Grimes, and Barrett were horrid, and two of those three have to regain their regular-season form. Smacking the Cavs at MSG sends exactly the right message, reinforcing the Garden as the most challenging place for road teams to play and not a stage for ole guys to have career nights.

It’s obvious this is a must-win. It’s also a must show-up for eight of the nine-man rotation. It’s also a chance for Thibs to rewrite his post-season legacy. Beating the fourth-seeded Cavs will only be the second time in his coaching career he has beaten a higher-seeded team in the playoffs. He must adjust. He must make it impossible for Darius Garland AND Donovan Mitchell to beat you in the same game. He needs to cut off the role players from having a significant impact and win the offensive rebounding contest.

You do that, and the Garden rafters will shake with jubilation as the unified echo of Knicks fans pulverizes the neophyte Cavaliers into submission. The counters are not beyond reach. It will take Thibs adjusting, which is his biggest chilies heel. Game Three will prove if he can. I have remained optimistic about our coach this post-season, so I believe he will.


Fuck it, let’s bring it back—Knicks by double digits. It can’t happen three games in a row, right? Right? Finally, one of Barrett, Grimes, and Quickley bust out for 25+ points, and the Cavs’ bench has no answer. Book it.