The New York Knicks didn’t simply beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of their playoff series. The Knicks embarrassed the Cavs in a 99-79 drubbing at Madison Square Garden, taking a 2-1 series lead. It marked the first time all season that a team was held to fewer than 80 points. Cleveland no longer has home-court advantage and is two losses away from being eliminated from the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
Despite how poorly they played in Game 3, the Cavaliers can bounce back in Game 4 Sunday afternoon. Just a few days before losing in New York, Cleveland had a rout of its own. The Cavs beat the Knicks 107-90 in Game 2 in a contest that was just as one-sided as the Knicks’ Game 3 victory. How can Cleveland turn things around in the Big Apple?
Let’s take a look at some adjustments the Cavs must make for Game 4 against the Knicks.
The Cavs need to get more fast-break opportunities in Game 4. In their Game 2 win, the Cavs scored 16 fast-break points on 12 field-goal attempts. In Game 3, Cleveland was held to seven points in transition.
Getting those fast-break chances starts on the defensive end. The Cavs turned 18 Knicks turnovers into 32 points during their lone victory of the 2023 playoffs. In front of a raucous New York crowd, Cleveland scored eight points off 14 turnovers.
Cleveland had the NBA’s No. 1 defensive rating during the regular season. It was evident in Game 2 when the Cavs hounded Jalen Brunson and forced Julius Randle to play an erratic style of basketball. If the Cavs can get back to what they do best, their offense will come around, as well.
Cleveland’s big frontcourt has been a key part of its success, particularly on the defensive end. However, the Cavs have been dominated by the Knicks up front in both of their losses this series. New York outrebounded Cleveland 51 to 38 in Game 1, grabbing 18 offensive boards that propelled the Knicks to victory. In Game 3, Jarrett Allen offered little resistance in the paint while grabbing just five rebounds in 37 minutes.
If Allen is getting outmuscled by Mitchell Robinson as he was in Game 3, the center is offering little value to Cleveland. Playing more small lineups without Allen could help jumpstart the Cavs’ offense. Cleveland is more likely to get out in transition if Allen is on the bench.
The Cavs were plus-16 in 35 minutes with Allen on the court in Game 2. If it’s a similar situation Sunday, Cleveland should stick with its big lineup. But if the center continues to be ineffective, Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff should consider tinkering with his rotations.
This isn’t exactly an Xs and Os adjustment, but the Cavs’ jitters might’ve been their biggest issue in Game 3. Donovan Mitchell admitted that the team was too hyped. Bickerstaff blamed nerves for the team’s slow start. Cleveland looked like a young team that was rattled by the MSG crowd.
The Cave got plenty of good looks in Game 3. They simply failed to convert on those shots. Cleveland went 19-of-56 on uncontested shots. Darius Garland was particularly bad on open looks, missing 12 of 15 such attempts. Overall, Garland scored 10 points on 4-of-21 shooting. Mitchell didn’t have as many wide-open misses, but his six turnovers might’ve been the result of trying to do too much.
Although they still struggled, the Cavs’ offense improved in the second half of Game 3. Cleveland was held to an unimaginable 32 points in the first two quarters. Garland and Mitchell are too gifted offensively to have a similar performance. If the Cavs get the same looks in Game 4 that they had in Game 3, they’ll make a lot more shots and have a better chance to steal a win in New York.