The New York Knicks didn’t have it easy against the stout Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, beating the visitors 99-79 at MSG in a no-shots-go affair.
That’s one way to put it. Another one: the Cavs found it impossible to beat the stiffest defense any NBA team has faced this season. No, seriously.
New York turned Cleveland into the only team this year (regular season and playoffs included) to score fewer than 80 points in a single game. Talk about a D.
The Cavs dropped 107 points on the Knicks just last Tuesday. They couldn’t even crack 80 three days later. What’s the deal? “Nerves,” according to coach J.B. Bickerstaff.
“I think early on it was the nerves, said Bickerstaff. “As the game progressed I think it was more about trust than anything. We stopped trusting and doing the right thing and just tried to do a lot on our own. Once that happens it starts to leak into our defense.”
Yeah, right. The nerves, the lack of experience, the youth...Cut it out, fellas. If it ain’t there, just don’t expect to find it.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau is happy with the W, as he should be, but as is his wont, the coach is not going to rest on his (defensive) laurels.
“I thought we had good overall activity,” Thibodeau said. “Good intensity, the guys were connected, we did a good job challenging shots and finishing.”
Truth be told, none of the two teams with men dressed in shorts on Friday did too good of a job putting the ball in the basket. Cleveland shot 31-of-80 (38.8%) to New York’s 39-of-83 (47%) while both squads hoisted 33 three-point shots scoring on just seven and 10 occasions.
The Knicks forced a monster 20 turnovers, though, while limiting the Cavs bench to scoring just 14 points through the game.
“Give [the Knicks] credit,” Bickerstaff said. “They made the adjustment. During the game, they found their footing. They got comfortable and rode the momentum of the home crowd.”
That’s good to watch and know, even more after Thibs failed to adjust to Cleveland’s own fix in Game Two. New York lost that one on the road but gave Cleveland no option to retake home-court advantage on Friday with a strong defensive performance from everybody boosted by a rabid MSG crowd.
“We can barely hear ourselves speak!”— Ball Don’t Lie (@Balldontlie) April 22, 2023
Knick fans showed OUT tonight at MSG
So great were the fans in attendance that Thibs even handed them the pleasure of enjoying two minutes and a half of living legend Derrick Rose.
The Knicks limited Cleveland to a meager 32 points through two quarters, the fewest allowed by the franchise in a postseason half since they did it twice against Boston in 2013.
Truth be told, the Cavs weren’t incredibly great at hitting open shots. The Knicks’ defense did its part, but it’s surely not the lone reason for this dominant victory.
“We shot like crap, man,” Donovan Mitchell said after the game. “We didn’t make a shot. Open ones, contested ones, whatever it is...”
Mitchell thinks it is “somewhat natural to try to do the best thing for the team,” and that Cleveland “sometimes ended up making the right play, making the simple play,” which he thinks is “the biggest thing.” He added that “there were times that I feel like we got away from that,” promising that they “will fix it, will adjust,” in time for Game 4 on Sunday.
Darius Garland, who slashed New York pretty much all by himself last Tuesday, went 1-for-7 from beyond the arc and finished with 10 points on a putrid 4-for-21 shooting performance. The All-Star also got to the bench after turning his ankle at the start of the fourth quarter, although he returned to no avail and with tears in his eyes.
“[Garland] missed some shots he normally makes,” Knicks’ sixth man Immanuel Quickley said. ”Just try to make it tough for him every single night, try to get a hand up when he shoots. That’s all you can do with really good players,” he finished.
Before the game, NY native Donovan Mitchell revealed that he had “cut off a lot of communication” with his New York-area friends. “I’ve left some group chats,” Mitchell told ESPN’s Nick Friedell. “As far as my friends go, I hope they see this: Y’all can kiss my ass. We got to win tonight—so I love y’all.”
However, Mitchell later clarified that “it’s all love with my friends, they know, but they love to bark, so I’m just kind of ignoring all the distractions and being the best player for my team that I can be.”
Speaking about the atmosphere inside MSG, Mitchell said that “as a competitor, you want to be booed.” He got that, and then some on Friday.
Donovan Mitchell gets booed in pregame intros pic.twitter.com/fGsvVLYIJx— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) April 22, 2023
“At the end of the day, it’s just five-on-five basketball,” Mitchell continued. “Yes, there’s noise, crowd noise, media attention, and all these things. But it’s just basketball. Stick to what we’ve been doing.”
Echoing his coach, Mitchell excused his team woes on this trip being “their first time in the playoffs,” adding that the Cavs “have played on the road before, done different things, and succeeded on the road.” That said, Mitchell thinks his team has to “understand that it’s a different type of atmosphere” when it comes to MSG. “Enjoy it. Embrace it. We have a job to do. Don’t let it consume you. Just go out there and play the game we’ve been playing, and we will be fine.”
Not that it really worked for the neophytes right at the doors of the weekend, did it?
“You know, it’s one game. It is what it is. And so now the challenge is, get ready for Game 4,” Thibodeau said after beating Cleveland. “We got to take a look at the film, look at things that we could do better, make our corrections and then be ready for the game on Sunday.”
The coach gave the Knicks players their flowers after a sublime defensive performance: “I think the activity on defense was important for us—some of it. They missed some open shots, too. So we know that the next challenge will be even greater, and we got to play better.”
"The thing about RJ is, he's very steady. He doesn't get rattled."— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) April 22, 2023
- Tom Thibodeau on RJ Barrett pic.twitter.com/wA04vFdLW7
Thibs also praised RJ Barrett, who carried the team with a strong first quarter and put together one of the best games of his short postseason history. “The big thing is his floor game—like in Game 1—I thought it was outstanding,” Thibodeau said of Barrett.
“He had six assists and four steals, although he didn’t shoot well,” said Thibs. “The thing about RJ is he’s very steady. He doesn’t get rattled. And then he was really aggressive today. We got to get him into the open floor, and when we do that, he’s gonna make shots. He gets downhill. He’s tough to guard,” the coach finished.
In response, Barrett said that “it felt good to be able to contribute in a positive way.”
When asked when he finally found his three-point stroke (RJ shot 3-for-6 on Friday after shooting 1-for-8 in G1 and G2 combined), Barrett confidently said “Wednesday.” He kept on going: “No, seriously, Wednesday. Just working at it, so I came in really confident.”
The face of the Cavs, Mitchell blamed the loss on his teammates and a horrid collective effort. He scored a team-high 22 points on Friday, but he posted a -19 plus/minus through 38 minutes.
“We kind of shot ourselves in the foot on that one,” he said. “We came out a little too hype. It was just one of those things where you’re just playing fast, trying to do so much, trying to do it all in one play. You’ll take that aggression at the end of the day. You can calm that down, as opposed to coming out timid.”
Mitchell highlighted the sky-high 20 turnovers committed by the Cavs on Friday, acknowledging he had six himself and saying that “as a leader, you can’t have that.”
On a final note, Quentin Grimes left for the locker at the end of the second quarter holding his right shoulder. It sounds like a plain contusion, confirmed by Thibs after the game. He didn’t return to the court yesterday but he’s expected to play Sunday.
Speaking of Sunday, Game 4 comes attached to an early tip-off for the national audience to enjoy and the international folks watching from across the pond to catch it live without losing sleeping time. It will all go down at 1:00 ET. Skip mass. Don’t miss it.