So close, yet so far away.
As Cleveland Cavaliers fans flooded Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse with playoff attire, a smoother end to a defining regular season for the Cavs transitioned into a rough patch during Cleveland’s first playoff series against the New York Knicks since the 1995-96 season.
New York would leave Cleveland with a 101-97 victory over the Cavaliers, moving one step closer to winning its first playoff series since the team featured Carmelo Anthony and former Cavs guard J.R. Smith during the 2012-13 NBA postseason.
“It’s a deflating feeling,” said Mitchell, via Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Fedor. “But in the same token, there’s no room for that emotion. OK, we gave up 17, but how do we correct it? How do we move on from there?
“That’s what the playoffs are. We’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to happen. We’re going to give up offensive rebounds. But there’s more physicality, there’s more intensity that can be had. Just got to clean that up, watch the film and we’ll be better.”
Will Cleveland be able to take a Game 2 victory on home court before they move on to Madison Square Garden? And will they be able to iron out their mistakes in time to tie, and potentially take, a long-awaited Cavs playoff series?
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3. Donovan Mitchell will break the 40-point mark
Mitchell came close to breaking the 40-point scoring barrier on Saturday.
He set the Cavs’ playoff debut scoring record with 38 points on Saturday while becoming the first player to score 30+ points in 20 of his first 40 playoff games since Allen Iverson, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The All-Star guard hit contested attempts on the fast break and never settled for a set jump shot as he hit step-back jumpers from the left elbow and the wings.
History says this is less than likely to happen, as Mitchell has scored more points in his second game of a playoff series than his first one on three occasions, according to Basketball Reference. Even then, he improved his scoring marks by one point in 2018, four in 2021 and two in 2022.
But it is challenging to bet against Mitchell’s scoring prowess. And the Cavs will need it to advance in the playoffs, especially in a game as important as this one.
In front of a friendly and electric home crowd, and with the momentum of the series on the line, it could be up to Mitchell to ignite Cleveland’s offense and push them into competitive form against a tough New York squad.
2. Cavs’ young options will continue to rise
By the first few possessions of Game 1, Cleveland’s younger options looked to literally and figuratively rise to the occasion.
After moving off of a screen to try and free up guard Darius Garland, forward Evan Mobley grabbed his own missed floater, pivoted in the post and dunked over center Mitchell Robinson’s head with a left-handed slam.
New York continued to use a more aggressive defense as the game drew on, rotating into a double-team on Mobley when he got into the post while having multiple defenders collapse when one of Cleveland’s scorers drove into the paint. The Cavs matched with a disciplined defense, but not enough to come back from a 78-70 lead the Knicks had built up by the end of the third quarter.
Mobley, Garland, Cavs center Jarrett Allen forward Isaac Okoro ended the night with a combined 45 points. Mobley and Okoro struggled to find a rhythm on offense, knocking down a combined five of their 19 attempts, but also added 14 combined rebounds. Garland added 17 points as he hit shots off of pick-and-rolls.
Though Cleveland’s big duo ended the night with 25 combined rebounds, a flurry of offensive boards, including seven in the fourth quarter, would ultimately give the Knicks the advantage they needed to keep the lead. Mobley ended the night with 11 rebounds, five on offense, while Allen took down 14 boards.
With a closely-contested playoff matchup under their belt, the Cavs’ younger players will need to use the lessons they learned from a physical battle in Cleveland and last season’s Play-In matchups to claim a decisive victory on home court.
1. Cleveland will earn a close victory
It may be a bold claim to assume the Cavs will prove victorious in Game 2 after a tough loss in Cleveland.
But they have little choice other than earning a win on Tuesday.
Another loss in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse would mean heading to New York down by two games. It would mean suiting up in Madison Square Garden with all the momentum on New York’s side.
But the Cavs just needed one more possession to go their way on Saturday. A missed jumper from Brunson with 11 seconds left couldn’t be corralled by Cleveland’s defenders, forcing the need for a foul before Knicks guard Quentin Grimes iced two free throws to put the game away for good.
This game is a must-win, Cavs Nation. Here’s hoping for a victory that will lead to a series win.
The Cavs will take on the Knicks at 7:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. The game will be broadcasted on TNT and Bally Sports Ohio.