The Knicks and the Cavs are entering a pivotal—not pivotal, determinant—matchup on Wednesday, with their first-round series tilted 3-1 in favor of the visitors.
If New York wins, your boys will be going places, and those whereabouts might be known by the end of the day: Miami and Milwaukee face each other right after the Knicks’ game, with the Heat just one game away from pulling their own upset.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves if only for a few more hours. As Julius Randle said on Tuesday after the Knicks’ last practice before Game 5: “We have one more.”
“One more on the road,” Randle continued. “We’ve been great on the road all year. We have one just to finish the job. That’s where our focus is, trying to close it out tomorrow night.”
Here are some of the narratives that popped up on Tuesday coming from both the Knicks and the Cavs’ final practices before going against each other.
Jalen Brunson on Game 5, facing Donovan Mitchel, and his 3-point celebration
The Knicks are visiting Cleveland for the third time in the past two weeks and the fifth time this season. Their record to date is 3-1 at the Rocket Morgage FieldHouse, with that lone loss coming before we flipped the calendar page to November. Not bad, if you ask me.
“It’s just Game 5,” said Jalen Brunson. “Game 5 is the next game for us. Don’t worry about anything else, don’t worry about closing it out. Worry about it’s your next game. Do what you gotta do.”
Brunson, who has an impeccable mindset, already warned everybody after Game 4 that “there’s nothing to celebrate, nothing to be truly happy about,” after the Knicks went up 3-1 last Sunday in what could have marked the final first-round game played at MSG.
“We’re one step closer, but we’ve got to continue to have that same mindset, that same mentality that we have over the past couple of games,” Brunson said following Game 4.
Don’t worry about it, but Brunson also said some other stuff right after G4, to Lisa Salters in particular, that he wanted to apologize for after Tuesday’s practice.
“I actually want to go back to that,” Brunson started. “The way I responded to Lisa came off a little arrogant on my part. So I apologize publicly to Lisa for that. But it’s between me and my teammates, that’s it.” Of course, this being the Knicks Beat Crew, they had to ask for a hint, to which Brunson replied: “Absolutely not.”
Jalen Brunson cooking Donovan Mitchell in back to back years gotta be embarrassing as hell pic.twitter.com/I00SKXHkWq— Teg (@IQfor3) April 23, 2023
After a summer full of DoMi Drama in which the Knicks eventually moved on from trying to land the Cavs two-guard, reporters asked Brunson on Tuesday whether the ties between the Knicks and Mitchell, as well as Brunson’s own personal war against him as a member of the Mavericks, is fueling his motivation through the first-round series.
Brunson thinks that’s “not really” the case. “For us to be in this position, no matter who we’re playing, it’s a great opportunity,” Brunson said. “If we needed any extra added motivation, something’s wrong,” reasoned the point guard. “We’re happy to be in this, playing in the playoffs. We just have to do our job, stick together and move forward.”
The media members reminded Brunson about his playoffs debut ending in a first-round exit to the Clippers, and how that impacted his masterful play in last season’s series between the Mavs and the Jazz in which Brunson defeated Mitchell’s team.
The leader of the Knicks answered that by saying that “knowing how I played that series and knowing what I could’ve done—I could’ve been better—it was always on my mind,” through the 2022 matchup against Utah.
After advancing to the WCF and taking a 3-2 lead, though, the Mavs ultimately lost to the eventual champions, the Golden State Warriors.
“For me, it wasn’t my best, but I think I wouldn’t really trade anything, any experience,” Brunson said. “Going through that experience was enough [for me to learn]. Just staying composed, staying poised, just really taking it one day at a time, one possession at a time, not being worried about getting rattled or anything like that.”
Donovan Mitchell and J.B. Bickerstaff on dealing with trailing the Knicks 1-3
The Cavs also practiced on Tuesday, speaking to their beat reporters after their scrimmage.
Reporter: "Is there anything from your past that you're going back to…?"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) April 25, 2023
Donovan Mitchell: "Well I mean, yeah, I gave a up a 3-1 lead before" pic.twitter.com/RvvNKgGlGt
Donovan Mitchell said he believes the Cavs can still flip the series. Mitchell, mind you, was a member of the Jazz squad that blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets back in 2020 so he reverse-knows it can happen, which doesn’t mean it will happen this time.
“It’s not over,” Mitchell started. “At the end of the day, they have to beat us on our home floor, and we’ve got to go out there and protect home court.” Mitchell just thinks “it’s Game 5” and “that’s it,” adding that he is “not worried about anything after that.”
Mitchell kept going, saying that the series won’t be over “if Cleveland can take advantage of being back home”. He said that Cleveland still “is playing for the season,” adding that “otherwise, we’ll be having the end-of-the-year press conference right here.”
Asked about how the Cavs plan to beat the Knicks, Mitchell said that it “doesn’t matter how.” For Mitchell, “if it’s ugly, if it’s pretty, if it’s by one, if it’s by 40...” the Cavs just “gotta win the game, by any means necessary.”
“Our guys have never surrendered…gonna be a hell of a game…we’re gonna lay it all out on the line”— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) April 26, 2023
— JB Bickerstaff on Game 5 pic.twitter.com/E0LrOEEL31
The coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, J.B. Bickerstaff, also spoke following the Cavs’ practice on Tuesday. JBB said that even knowing the series is at 3-1 in favor of New York, “this should not be a three-game thought process.”
Bickerstaff thinks “It’s one basketball game, and we’ve proven that we can win one game.” The coach said that “all you have to do is the job that’s in front of you,” and that Wednesday is just about “one basketball game.”
“We know we’re capable of winning one basketball game,” Bickerstaff finished.
Asked about the unexpected fourth-quarter decision made by Tom Thibodeau when he opted to sit Randle in favor of Obi Toppin, JBB said that the Knicks “were more aggressive and [presented] more shows on picks-and-rolls.”
Bickerstaff thinks Toppin “plays out more in space and more in the corners—while Randle spends a lot of time in the slot area.” That, as JBB sees it, “puts your big guys in different positions on the floor.”
After Game 4, Thibs himself said that he was “very, very pleased” with Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson, along with Obi Toppin closing the matchup and earning New York the 3-1 lead.
Reporter: “Why is New York so good on the offensive glass?“— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) April 26, 2023
Evan Mobley: “I’m not sure…“
Josh Hart & Mitchell Robinson: pic.twitter.com/xIDS7t0TEi
“We’re just playing hard,” Robinson said Sunday. “They’ve got two 7-footers out there. So it just takes a little more extra effort and we got the job done.”
Injury updates on Quentin Grimes and Jericho Sims
At the time of this writing (6:00 am ET), the New York Knicks have listed second-year guard Quentin Grimes (shoulder contusion) as “questionable” in the official NBA injury report for Game 5, tipping off at 7:0pm ET on Wednesday.
Grimes already missed Game 4 entirely, sitting on the Knicks bench and sporting a sling as a protective measure. As already was the case on Sunday, this feels like a game-time call to be made by Thibs and the rest of the Knicks coaches and medical staff.
The youngster suffered the injury at some undisclosed point through Game 3, most probably during the second quarter, which forced him to sit the remainder of the game and the entire second half, for that matter.
Josh Hart started in place of Grimes, with Miles McBride getting a few minutes off the pine. Expect that to be the case on Wednesday if Grimes can’t make it, which it’s nothing to really worry about considering what happened on Sunday’s matinee.
Jericho Sims (sore right shoulder) has not played through the first-round series, and he’s already been ruled out for Game 5.