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Historic Mitchell Robinson leads Knicks to Eastern Conference semis

“We just matched their intensity,” Mith-Rob said.

New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Five Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It took the New York Knicks four more quarters than we’d have liked, but the men playing on the road on Wednesday earned a solid 106-95 win over the fourth-best team in the East to clinch a place in the conference semifinals for the first time in 10 years.

Now, the Knickerbockers have to move on and be the ones bringing the Heat starting next Sunday at MSG.

It’s hard to envision something like this no-contest first-round series repeating itself in the ECSF against Miami and Heat Honcho Jimmy Buckets. But if there is a season to make a deep run, it’s surely the 2023 one.

All the Cavs and head coach J.B. Bickerstaff could come up with to try and extend the first round to a sixth or seventh game was, well, sitting Ricky Rubio in favor of Lamar Stevens. The former is nearly 33 years old and has played a measly 1,500 minutes over the past two years. The latter was playing for the first time since logging four minutes in G3.

“They punched us in the mouth,” Bickerstaff said after the game. “Everybody’s hurting,” he revealed. “These are learning lessons for us. These are things that you can’t experience unless you go through it. These guys had a phenomenal regular season. Each of them grew in their own different way. Those guys should be proud.”

The Cavs might be proud. The Knicks, though, are the ones advancing and getting closer to lifting the Larry O’B next June.

There were multiple storylines to follow through this series: Donovan Mitchell facing the team he was so close to joining last summer; the Cavs’ boasting a formidable and dominant frontcourt that New York would find hard to stop; Cleveland getting to the playoffs (as a top-4 seed on top of it) for the first time since LeBron left The Land...

All of that, for nothing.

The Cavaliers never found their best starting five, let alone a proper, working bench unit. They lacked shooters. They lacked toughness in the paint. They lacked experience, indeed, both on the court and the sidelines. They were outplayed, outcoached, out-everything.

The Knicks stomp the Cavs, it’s as simple as that.

And there was nothing more telling of the series as a whole than the MVP of Game 5: Big Boy Mitch.

Robinson scored 13 points, pulled down 18 rebounds, swatted three shots, committed two thefts, dished out one dime, and logged 36 minutes of playing time. Just in case, 11 of those boards were truly offensive.

Mitch-Rob did what he does best: dominate. He doesn’t need to hoist more than a handful of shots or score more than 10 points. He just sets camp in the paint and goes from there. And at that, there’s no one better than the Knicks big man.

In fact, you don’t even have to be nitpicky with the numbers and the stats. In the history of the Association, just 81 times have we witnessed a player grab 10+ O-boards to go with 10+ points scored.

If you want to be pinpoint-accurate with the data, the list shrinks to just 30 names with Robinson’s 11+13.

If you account for the fact that Robinson (9) attempted fewer than 10 FGA, then you’d be hitting rarefied air. Yes, Tyson Chandler did it with the Mavs, but Orange & Blue blood runs through that body. That’s three-for-three Knickerbockers in that very unique club. Uh, oh.

“I think [Robinson is] the best offensive rebounder in the league,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Sometimes he has two bodies on him and now his defensive rebounding is coming along now. The shot-blocking, the rim protection, the pick-and-roll defense...and his offense is coming along as well.”

Robinson had to man the paint with Julius Randle only playing a quarter and a half. Randle was forced out of the game with less than 90 seconds left in the second quarter after trying to block a Caris LeVert shot only to land wrongly and re-aggravate his left ankle injury.

Thibs revealed Randle’s shaky status following Game 4, acknowledging the All-Star forward was “still playing through pain” and hoping he could “play better” entering Game 5 with a couple of days of rest before tip-off on Wednesday.

That was indeed the case, with Randle putting on a masterclass through the 16 minutes he spent on Cleveland’s court. JR scored 13 points, grabbed four boards, and dished out six assists against just one turnover. The Knicks outscored the Cavs by three points with Randle on the floor, entering halftime with a commanding 10-point, 61-51 lead they never relinquished after getting past an early 10-10 tie.

Randle didn’t return for the second half and joined his teammates on the bench early in the fourth quarter, already in street clothes and still in visible pain.

Thibs didn’t offer any more info after the game other than saying Randle “will be re-evaluated on Thursday.” Ian Begley of SNY shared a little nugget late Wednesday, calming down those worried about Randle’s status going forward and already looking at Sunday’s matinee G1 against Miami at MSG.

“Randle was walking cautiously in the post-game locker room,” Begley tweeted. “League sources told SNY that the early impression is the sprain is not as severe as Randle’s prior ankle ailment.” We will know more in a few hours, but that’s not a bad start.

After the game, Thibs said that Randle “was aggressive,” that the forward “carried us early,” and that it’d be “premature” to comment and make any guess on his injury until he is to be re-examined Thursday. “We’re hopeful that it’s not bad,” Thibs concluded.

“He was terrific, in a lot of different ways,” Thibodeau said. “Just the aggressiveness, high energy, attacking the rim, spraying the ball out, I think he had six assists in 16 minutes, but attacking all around. When he plays like that, our offense it just goes to a different level when he’s in that attack mode.”

No matter Randle’s presence or absence on the court yesterday, the Knicks demolished Cleveland on the boards outrebounding the Cavs 48-30 overall and grabbing 17 total offensive rebounds. The Knicks also got 31 defensive boards, limiting Cleveland to a tiny four O-rebounds and three second-chance points. The Knicks scored 20 off second chances.

Robinson and Josh Hart alone grabbed 30 rebounds, as many as the Cavs got as a team. Evan Mobley led Cleveland with nine. Donovan Mitchell (7), Caris LeVert (5), and Jarrett Allen (4) combined for 16. That’s 25 between the four for you math wiz counting at home.

“Rebounding was really the name of the game,” Tom Thibodeau said post-game.

“We just matched their intensity,” Robinson claimed. “We came out, played hard. We matched them.”

Can’t argue against it looking at the series’ numbers: 227 vs 186 total rebounds, 75 vs 46 on the offensive glass, both tallies in favor of the ECSF-bound Knicks. Keep it going.