The Knicks had an early 8-point lead, but then Cleveland — statistically the #1 defensive team in the NBA this year — clamped down with INTENSE defensive pressure in the 2nd quarter — and the Knicks could not cope, turning the ball over or not getting good shots off.
Darius Garland, in the meantime, got hot — and by the half, Cleveland was up by 20 points.
Cleveland outrebounded the Knicks, out hustled them, got to every loose ball — and thoroughly outplayed NY all evening. The Cavs went up by 26 points several times in the 4th quarter. It was a blowout. NY finally showed a little life in the 4th — but never got within hail Mary’s distance.
“The biggest thing was the ball pressure,” said Tom Thibodeau afterwards. “Garland got loose on us. Had a big 1st half. (Donovan) Mitchell made a number of good plays. They beat us to the ball. So..”
“We turned the ball over, so that was a big problem. Put them in the open floor.” Thibs continued when asked what the difference was between this game and game 1. “I think we had 18 turnovers; they had 32 points. The rebounding was a problem. Garland’s strength is his shot. He got going; got into a good rhythm. It was too late when we started challenging.”
“We’ll just take a look at the film,” said Thibs on next steps. “Each game’s different. You’re playing the same team over and over. Nothing changes on how you process everything and how you prepare for the next game. Hopefully we’ve built that habit over the course of the season. Go back home, study, make corrections and prepare for the next game.”
The 7-game series is now tied at 1 game apiece, with the series heading back to Madison Square Garden. The Knicks theoretically did their job of splitting the first 2 games in Cleveland — but it has to be disconcerting at the way Cleveland manhandled them.
1. INTENSE Cleveland Defense
NY had an early 12-4 lead, with both teams playing intense defense — but Cleveland picked up their play and by the end of the 1st quarter, the Cavs tied it and then pulled ahead on a 3-pointer by Caris Levert to end the quarter.
And then came the 2nd quarter.
Cleveland applied even greater pressure, and the Knicks couldn’t get anything going on offense. The Cavs were able to bottle up Jalen Brunson, and Julius Randle, and anyone else who touched the ball. The Knicks kept hoisting up bad shots or turning the ball over.
Brunson would finish the evening with a hard-fought 20 points, on 4-13 shooting (0-3 from 3) and Julius Randle 22 points — also hard fought — on 8-20 shooting (3-7 from 3) with 8 rebounds but 6 turnovers.
2. Garland Gets In Rhythm
And then Darius Garland got going.
- Garland hit a 3 with just over 7 minutes left in the quarter — turning a 30-24 game into 33-24 Cleveland.
- Garland hit a 26-foot running jumper later to make it 38-26 Cleveland.
- Garland made 3 free throws (one a technical) with 2:40 left.
- Garland hit a deuce with 1:30 left to give Cleveland a 17-pt lead.
- Garland hit a drive with 55 seconds left.
He finished with 14 points in the quarter — en route to a 32-point evening, on 8-17 shooting (6-10 from 3 and 10-11 in free throws).
“Darius Garland doing a good job in the first half not only getting to where he wants to get on the floor but also creating contact and getting to the line along with knocking down his 3,” observed NBA analyst Ross Kreines on twitter. “Also, understands how to play off the ball and utilize curls/screens.”
With Garland so hot, Donovan Mitchell distributed — finishing with 17 points on 6-11 shooting, and 13 assists.
3. Cleveland Hit the Boards
Cleveland also came in intent on rectifying the job NY did on them on the boards in game 1. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley were Especially active underneath all night — rebounding, and pressuring and blocking shots.
- Allen had 10 rebounds, 3 steals, and 3 blocks.
- Mobley had 13 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks.
Mitchell Robinson was active for the Knicks with 4 blocks, but in only 21 minutes (5 rebounds) as Thibs played Isaiah Hartenstein 26 minutes (7 rebounds) in order to give the Knicks something on offense.
4. Barrett Showed Some Life in the 2nd Half
RJ Barrett didn’t give the Knicks anything offensively in the 1st half — but did start taking it to the rim in the 2nd half — a pseudo bright spot for NY.
Barrett finished with 14 points on 4-13 shooting.
5. Quick Cold then Warmed Up
Immanuel Quickley continued to give NY nothing on offense in the 1st half, but like Barrett finally came on in the 2nd half. He finished with 12 points on 4-8 shooting (1-4 from 3).
Really not much good to say about the Knicks — they were blown out in this one from the middle of the 2nd quarter to the end. A dismal night for them.
“We knew the challenge would be the intensity of the game. The physicality. The ball pressure,” said Thibs afterwards. “And then you have to make shots. When you get blitzed, trust the pass. Make the second pass. When you do that you’re going to get a good shot. And then you have to make shots. The turnovers were a concern. The rebounds was a concern. So we need to correct that.”