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Knicks Clinch: “For us to be in the second round...”

One down, three to go. Bring it on!

2023 NBA Playoffs Game Five - New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

The New York Knicks, for the first time in a decade, are bound to play second-round playoff basketball.

And the best of all is that 1) it didn’t take them a lot to manhandle an overmatched first-round foe and 2) the path toward a deep postseason run is looking better by the day.

New York defeated Cleveland 106-95 on the road in Game 5, clinched the final 4-1 lead, quickly packed their bags, and will be back at MSG next Sunday to host the opener of their Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup with the Miami Heat at 1:00 pm ET.

“We have what I feel are the best fans in the world, we have the best city in the world, the best arena in the world. I think the way this team plays, it resonates with all our fans,” coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game.

“They play hard, they play smart, and they play together,” he continued. “If you do that in New York, it’s always recognized, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“We have a lot of areas to improve upon. So we’re looking forward to the next challenge.”

Bring it on, Miami.

Cleveland failed to conquer the most important stat column for the nth time in their first-round series with the Knicks and ended up paying for it with an early elimination from the playoffs.

In true homage to former-Cav LeBron James, The Land graced postseason vibes and wrapped up their season without winning the last game.

New York dominated the paint, grabbed 48 rebounds to the hosts’ 30, and crushed the souls of those watching live on location. So much talk, so little walk.

The assumed bullies—Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen—got molly-bullied by the lesser players—Mitchell Robinson and Josh Hart. Yes, you read that right, Mitch & Hart.

Those two Knicks alone grabbed as many rebounds (30) as the Cavs did as a team. The poor Cavaliers’ frontcourt pair got nine and four boards respectively.

With Quentin Grimes still out, Josh Hart got the second chance in as many games to make the starting five. Not only did he start, but he actually fell just 1:14 seconds short of spending the full 48 minutes on the floor. He didn’t sit for the whole second half.

After the game, Hart revealed that he’s cool on the court because he “doesn’t get play calls” particularly assigned to him. “I don’t do that. I go out there and just find my way to impact the game and try to impact winning,” Hart said.

“Whether that’s in transition, offensive rebounds, catch and shoot threes, defensively...” Hart continued. “It wasn’t too much of a feeling out process because I didn’t have to worry about me getting whatever play call, them defending that differently, and doing all that. Mine was just going out there and finding my spots and picking my spots and being aggressive. That’s the hardest thing to scout.”

Hart completed an extraordinary series-winning outing even though he only scored four points. He added 12 rebounds, two assists, and one block to his stat line, but he was key in preventing both Donovan Mitchel and Darius Garland from operating in spaces while being always available and giving relief to the rest of the tired Knickerbockers.

“Man, Hart has always been big there,” RJ Barrett said when asked about the Knicks’ depth allowing them to run tirelessly and relentlessly. “And Obi [Toppin] stepped up big time, especially at the beginning of the third right there. So, he gave us some life,” Barrett added.

RJ scored 21 points on Wednesday, only topped by Jalen Brunson’s 23 on the day and followed closely by Immanuel Quickley’s 19, most definitely the best performance of the Knicks reserve throughout the first-round series.

“It says a lot we can win this round, especially 4-1 against a good team like the Cavs,” Quickley said. “I was out there having a lot of fun.”

Back to Brunson, Hart said that his former Villanova teammate is “a star player,” and that he “showed that last year in the playoffs, showed that this whole season, and is continuing to show it.”

Added Hart in jest: “He’s undersized, overrated, overpaid.”

Brunson got four dimes, four boards, and two steals added to his line. Quickley, who shot 5-of-15 and hit three of the 10 three-point shots he took (while notching all six freebies he attempted), also got to pull down two rebounds and assist one bucket in 29 minutes.

Toppin had to play more than he might have thought before tip-off with Julius Randle forced to leave the game approaching the halfway break after re-aggravating his left ankle injury.

Obi, starting the second half and logging 22 minutes through the game, finished with 12 points, two rebounds, one assists, and one steal along with a +5 plus/minus.

“New York is the Mecca of basketball,” Toppin said after the game. “For us to be in the second round...”

Although Toppin didn’t finish his sentence, I can tell you New York will be playing Miami next, which is something that has never happened in the history of the Right Conference, according to research by Jorge Sierra of HoopsHype. This will be the first time in Eastern playoffs history the No. 5 seed plays against the No. 8. It had only happened once before in the NBA (Denver vs. Utah in 1994).

The gentleman’s sweep is now complete, but it looks totally different from the one that took place in 2021 when the Hawks finished the Knicks in five games.

“Bad games are going to happen—it’s the NBA. Everybody has bad days in life,” Barrett said after the game. “It’s really how you bounce back, how you try to play well or do things you need to do to be prepared constantly. We just did the same thing that Atlanta did to us,” Barrett finished.

Oh, just in case, you might have noticed I have barely mentioned Mitchell Robinson in this column...

Well, that’s because Mitch-Rob merits a whole ‘nother story.