It all comes down to this.
The Cleveland Cavaliers’ postseason is left hanging in the balance of three-straight win-or-go-home opportunities after they dropped to a 3-1 deficit with a 102-93 loss in Madison Square Garden. The Cavs will have the chance to play in front of a friendly Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse crowd to keep what will be a crucial postseason run for Cleveland’s young starters alive.
Who can keep the Cavs in contention against the New York Knicks? Will the series ultimately end in Cleveland, or will the Cavs be able to fight their way into a spot in the second round?
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3. Donovan Mitchell will have one last big-time playoff performance
Game 4 needed Cleveland’s All-Star guard in Donovan Mitchell to shine, especially in a decisive matchup that would ultimately decide who would hold the momentum before the Cavs flew back to Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
Mitchell ended Game 4 against New York with 11 points in just under 42 minutes played, hitting five of his 18 shot attempts while missing all four of his tries from beyond the arc.
Mitchell took accountability for his Game 4 performance while reaffirming his faith in his Cavaliers teammates in a post-game press conference.
“I believe in myself, I believe in this group,” Donovan Mitchell said when asked if he still believes, and if so, why, via Bally Sports Ohio. “We believe in each other. If you give up 3-1, you’re not built for these moments.
“At the end of the day, like I said, I had probably the second or third-worst playoff game of my career. I didn’t show up for my guys. Ultimately, everybody did their job. We had our faults as a group, but ultimately I didn’t do what I was supposed to do. I take that. I’ve got to just be better.”
In a do-or-die game against the New York Knicks, Cleveland will need its star player to step up and lead a young Cavs corp when the entire series leans in the Knicks’ favor.
2. The Cavs’ defense will make one final bold stand against New York
Cleveland’s defense had its ups and its downs on Sunday.
While Cleveland’s defense managed to hold the Knicks to 102 points and 27.6% from the 3-point line, the Cavs couldn’t stop 20-point performances from Knicks guard Jalen Brunson and forward RJ Barrett.
“I feel like we just didn’t really play with the grit we needed to play with and the urgency we needed to play with all the way through down the stretch,” Cavs forward Evan Mobley said, via Bally Sports Ohio. “I feel like we turned the ball over early, and that got them going.
“We just have to protect the ball a little more and make better plays.”
Cleveland will have an immense amount of pressure to keep New York’s offense at bay and stop it from gaining extra possessions by dominating the offensive glass. The Cavs’ big duo of Mobley and center Jarrett Allen combined for 11 total rebounds, seven on the defensive side of the ball. The Knicks outrebounded the Cavs by a 47-33 margin, grabbing 17 offensive boards to Cleveland’s 26 defensive rebounds.
The Cavs may not be able to deter the Knicks on the glass completely, but should they play with an increased sense of urgency, they can at least keep things competitive against New York.
1. The Knicks end the series at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse
There was a time when Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff expressed confidence in a young Cleveland group ready for its first playoff series for several young starters, saying the group was a “tough out for anybody” when they were at their best.
But confidence can only get you so far.
Cleveland may have taken a convincing win on their home court in Game 2. But, after falling in two straight games in New York and a loss in Game 1, it will take nothing short of a miracle to get the Cavs back on their feet and in competitive form against a Knicks team looking to face either the Milwaukee Bucks or the Miami Heat in the next round.
The Cavs have proven to be comeback kings in the past, highlighted by a game-winning 3-point shot by forward Isaac Okoro against the Brooklyn Nets that saw them down by four points with 30 seconds remaining.
Even if it fizzles out with a loss to the Knicks on Wednesday, Cleveland’s 50-win season will still be an accomplishment of its own.
“Winning 50 games in the NBA is not easy,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said earlier this month. “The NBA season is long, it’s grueling, it’s difficult, it’s emotional.
“But being able to have a group of guys that commit themselves to the team, no matter the circumstances, the selflessness with all the other things that they have going on in the world, for them to sacrifice and move those things to the side, and just continue to focus on the team and do whatever it takes to continue to build a team.”
The Cavs will tip off against the Knicks at 7 p.m. EDT on Wednesday in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. The game will be broadcasted on NBA TV and Bally Sports Ohio.