The New York Knicks stole home-court advantage from the Cleveland Cavaliers by winning Game 1 of their first-round series in the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Following their 101-97 loss, the Cavs should be kicking themselves for letting the Knicks escape with a victory.
The Knicks blew an eight-point lead late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 Saturday night. A 9-0 Cavaliers’ run made the score 93-92 in favor of Cleveland with just over two minutes remaining. New York recovered from its mini meltdown with clutch shooting and hustle plays. Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson made big shots in the final few possessions. Julius Randle grabbed an offensive rebound in the final seconds that essentially ended the Cavs’ chances.
Donovan Mitchell was the best player on the floor in the Cavs’ defeat. In his Cavs’ playoff debut, Mitchell recorded 38 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three steals. Four of Cleveland’s five starters finished with a positive plus-minus.
How did Cleveland lose? Let’s take a look at who deserves the most blame for the Cavs’ Game 1 loss to the Knicks on Day 1 of the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Darius Garland was the only Cleveland starter who finished with a negative plus-minus. In 43 minutes with Garland on the floor, the Knicks outscored the Cavs by three points. Garland managed to dish out just one assist, falling well short of the 7.8 assists that he averages per game. The point guard was responsible for five of Cleveland’s 14 turnovers.
Garland shot well from the field. He made seven of his 13 field-goal attempts for 17 points. With the way that Mitchell was scoring, the Cavs didn’t need Garland to put up big scoring numbers. Cleveland will need Garland to be a much better distributor in Game 2.
The Cavs are supposed to have two of the three best guards in the series. It wasn’t the case Saturday night. Mitchell and Brunson were both outstanding. Josh Hart outplayed Garland, totaling 17 points and 10 rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting. Cleveland should hope that Garland got any playoff jitters out of his system in his postseason debut.
The Cavs were burned by some questionable coaching decisions, particularly in the fourth quarter. Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff chose to play Cedi Osman instead of Isaac Okoro down the stretch, and it cost Cleveland. Brunson took advantage of the defensive mismatch with Osman, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter. Brunson hit a pair of shots in the final 90 seconds against Osman that gave the Knicks a two-possession lead and helped New York secure a Game 1 victory.
In the regular season, Brunson was 2-of-11 for seven points when guarded by Okoro. The small forward held his own against Brunson in the first half, but Bickerstaff kept Okoro on the bench in the fourth quarter. It was an understandable decision, given Okoro’s dreadful offensive performance. Even though Okoro missed five of his six field-goal attempts, the Cavs outscored the Knicks by six points in his 23 minutes of playing time. Osman’s inability to play defense or rebound cost Cleveland when it mattered most.
Some of Bickerstaff’s rotations ended up hurting the Cavs. Caris LeVert saw 18 minutes of playing time while providing Cleveland with little help on either end of the floor. LeVert went 1-of-7 from the field and finished as a minus-14. The Cavs were also outscored by 14 points in Dean Wade’s seven minutes. Bickerstaff never played Danny Green, who has won three championships and made eight of 19 attempts from 3-point range in Cleveland’s last two regular-season games.