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Knicks 106, Cavaliers 95: In 5!

Q: What’s blue, orange and in the second round of the playoffs?

NBA: Playoffs-New York Knicks at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Knicks advanced to the second round of the playoffs after a 106-95 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio Wednesday night. The win began much earlier than that.

The Knicks won this series on September 25, 2017, the day trading Carmelo Anthony outta town went down. The biggest return New York received from Oklahoma City appeared to be Enes Kanter, but they also acquired a second-round pick owed by a lousy Chicago team that figured to be in the low-to-mid 30s, the sweet spot to take a shot on a project. Nine months later on draft night, that dream of a gleam in their eye entered the Knicks family, an even bigger boy than Kanter. Last night Mitchell Robinson outrebounded Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley combined 18-13 and nearly tripled the Cavaliers’ cavalier efforts on the offensive glass (11 offensive rebounds to four). In the biggest game of his career, the biggest Knick played his best.

The Knicks won this series on July 16, 2018, days after drafting Mitch. That’s the day the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA’s summa cum laudes, signed their own second-rounder, Jalen Brunson, to a four-year deal. Brunson’s agent — chap by the name of Leon Rose — got his client an unusual deal: the fourth year was non-guaranteed, rather than a team option. Brunson played well enough that the Mavs ended up guaranteeing the fourth year anyway, making him extension-eligible, and yet . . . and yet.

In a series where both teams dealt with the vagaries of playoff performances — almost every top player in the series struggled in some significant way — Brunson was great enough enough of the time to make the difference.

The Knicks won the series October 10, 2018. That’s the day Jimmy Butler — get ready to see more of that name — stormed into a Minnesota practice and napalmed the one rickety wooden bridge connecting him and the Timberwolves. Butler forced a trade to Philadelphia; less than two months later, the Wolves fired their head coach, Tom Thibodeau. Thibs was on the sideline a year and a half watching film and doing bench press for fun before getting the call from his former agent, now the president of the Knicks — chap by the name of Rose — to become Gotham’s Commissioner Gordon. After out-coaching J.B. Bickerstaff most of the series, Thibs saved a trump card for the finale, going with a small lineup of Mitch, Brunson, Immanuel Quickley, RJ Barrett and Josh Hart to close out the Cavs. It’s probably fair to say he’s more popular now than he was two years ago, after being named Coach of the Year.

The Knicks won the series on May 14, 2019, a day that felt anything like a win at the time. That’s the day the first wheel fell off their dream ride to resurrection: after finishing with the league’s worst record, the Knicks did not land the top pick and generational talent Zion Williamson, nor did they finish second and land generational talent Ja Morant. Instead they fell to third, ending up with RJ Barrett, which is like missing out on Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning and ending up with Christian Laettner. The city that never sleeps has indigestion from eating its young, so natch Barrett’s struggles were Zaprudered to an unhealthy degree. Yet over the five-game series, the 22-year-old grew more confident and effective game to game, his scoring morphing from a luxury to a necessity due as injuries and ineffectiveness plagued some of his teammates.

Remember: 22 is young.

The Knicks won this series July 8, 2019, the day the rest of the wheels came off as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving ushered in a new era of greatness, East Coast version (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George started their own golden age out west). The Knicks were left to settle for Julius Randle, who’s played 94% of their games since then and who returned early from an ankle sprain to be available at the start of the Cleveland matchup. After struggling mightily in Game 4 and being benched late, Randle was reborn in the first half of Game 5, a chimera of vigor and velocity vamping sweet sweet music, solos and accompaniments.

Unfortunately Randle landed badly on his ankle — the same one he sprained a few weeks ago — and missed the second half. For what it’s worth, early talk suggests this may turn out better than last time?

Three days after signing Randle, the Knicks won the series a little more. That’s the day the San Antonio Spurs learned to their fury that a handshake agreement they had with free agent Marcus Morris had been treated like the non-binding agreement it was, and Morris was rejecting their two-year, $20M offer to take one and $15M from the Knicks. He played well enough that year to entice the Clippers to trade for him at the deadline, netting a first-round pick which after some draft night trade chutes and ladders became the pick that brought Quickley to New York. IQ struggled with his shot in this series by modern standards, but this series was pretty ‘90s-ish as far as offense goes; by ‘90s standards, IQ scoring 19 on 15 shots is more meaningful than the fact that he missed two-thirds of them. Plus Quick brought his usual kitchen sink of other goodies to the game.

The Knicks won the series November 18, 2020, the last time they had a lottery pick. The prospects most commonly linked to them that year were Tyrese Haliburton, Patrick Williams and Devin Vassell; some handsome fools were in love with Isaac Okoro. The Knicks ended up with Obi Toppin, a player precisely zero people had linked to them in the build-up to the draft. Toppin has shown consistent growth in the pros despite arriving at the precise moment Randle ascended to biannual All-NBAness; he ranks 26th in minutes played among his draft peers. Last night, Toppin stepped up in place of Randle — not for the first time, but the first time when the stakes were so high. If the Cavaliers thought Randle’s absence was an invitation to win back the momentum, Toppin slammed the door on those hopes with a 13-point third quarter.

The Knicks nearly wrapped up the series July 12 of last year, the day they signed Isaiah Hartenstein, a center who started the year stumbling but grew in impact to the point that he and Mitch were indisputably the dominant bigs in the series, outplaying Allen and Mobley. Seven months after acquiring Hartenstein, the Knicks completed their Cardiac Kids set by trading renowned roundball Rohrschach test Cam Reddish and a protected first-round pick for Josh Hart, who brings production rather than potential. Boy does he. Cleveland isn’t the only playoff foe who’s going to trap Brunson and dare the other Knicks to beat them 4-on-3. Hart’s got a little skeleton key to him.

Quoth MelleMehl: “In 5!!” Yeah, right?! The Knicks did it! They looked the better team for four of the five games; they deserved to win. This was a striking domination of one of the league’s better regular-season teams — the Cavaliers lost 28 games to the other 28 teams, winning 50, yet went 2-7 against New York. Still, I didn’t exhale the whole series until there were like 45 seconds left and the Knicks were up 11, despite the fact that they spent much of the series up 10 points.

Enjoy the hell outta this one! Really, fam: you deserve to let this sink over and into you. It’s nearly 3 a.m. and I’m about to dabble in blueberry wine and sweet indica. Nights like this have been too few and far too far between the past twentysomething years. Eat, drink, and be merry, for pretty soon Jimmy Butler’s gonna try to ruin another year for Thibs.