It was clear that the Cleveland Cavaliers had a few adjustments to make after suffering a heartbreaking 101-97 loss to the New York Knicks in their opening contest of the 2023 NBA playoffs. The Knicks came out of the gates the hungrier, more determined team, and it showed in their work on the glass.
The Cavs, despite boasting two strong interior presences in Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, inexplicably found themselves on the losing end of the rebounding battle, making up for the Knicks’ worse shooting performance than the Cavs.
But in Game 2, the Cavs showed why they’re one of only six teams in the NBA to win more than 50 or more games in the regular season. Their core four, led by Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland, can compete with anyone in the NBA, and as they showed on Tuesday night, can be tough to stop when they’re on a roll.
The Cavs took control of the contest in the second quarter and did not look back, going off to a 20-point halftime lead that they wouldn’t come close to relinquishing.
But how exactly did the Cavs manage to dominate the Knicks after a back-and-forth Game 1? How did the Cavs shake off their loss in the playoff opener en route to a 107-90 shellacking of the Knicks that, quite frankly, was not as close as the already-lopsided score line suggests?
Here’s a cursory look at how Darius Garland and the rest of the Cavs turned the tables on the Knicks on their way to tying up the series at one game apiece.
Sharing is caring
Donovan Mitchell has caught some flak in previous postseason runs with the Utah Jazz for hogging the ball and playing hero ball in the clutch. Criticisms of Spida’s tendency to take matters on his own hands, for better or for worse, reached its loudest point in last year’s playoffs, when he shot less than 40 percent from the field and an eye-poppingly bad 20.8 percent shooting from three against the Dallas Mavericks en route to a six-game series loss.
In Game 1, it seemed like this tendency of Mitchell’s came back to haunt the Cavs. Mitchell put up 30 shots in Game 1, more than double the shot attempts the next Cavs player had (13 for both Darius Garland and Evan Mobley). Given the offensive weapons at his disposal, hero ball may not be the best course of action for the Cavs, and it showed during their four-point defeat, Mitchell’s 38-point night notwithstanding.
However, in Game 2, the Cavs made the most of their more talented top-to-bottom roster than the Knicks. Garland, in particular, played like his All-Star self, scoring 32 points including a dynamite stretch in the second quarter when the Cavs took control of the ballgame.
Meanwhile, Donovan Mitchell maximized the considerable defensive attention he draws on a nightly basis in Game 2. He dished a game-high 13 dimes, which was also a career-high mark for him, regular season and playoffs combined. He made sure to dish the rock to the open man as the Knicks kept sending a second defender towards his way given his ability to pop off. Of course, credit goes to the Cavs for making their open shots.
Even Caris LeVert, someone who has struggled with consistency, came to play, outscoring Mitchell 24-17 as the Cavs fired on all cylinders all night long.
The Cavs must continue to play unselfish basketball and trust one another, especially when they’re reaping the rewards of victory following a much more concerted effort to share the rock.
Cavs’ number one defense came to play
Part of what made the Cavs such a good team this past season was their stifling team defense. With Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in the backline, the Cavs made scoring more difficult for their opponents than any other team in the NBA.
In Game 1, it wasn’t like their defense suddenly turned into mush. They still held the Knicks to poor shooting, especially from three. But part of defense is securing the boards. The Knicks made the Cavs pay on the offensive boards, which ultimately led to defeat for the home team.
However, in Game 2, the Cavs came to battle on the glass, outrebounding the Knicks 43-36.
More than that, however, the Cavs also made life extremely uncomfortable for Jalen Brunson. Brunson’s footwork is a work of art, and he gets to his spots at will, but in Game 2, the Cavs made sure to stymie the Knicks floor general’s impact and they did, holding him to 5-17 shooting from the field.
And with Brunson struggling and the rest of the Knicks unable to get into much of a rhythm (New York shot 36.7 percent as a team — their fourth-worst shooting display this season) , the Cavs weren’t really in any danger of losing a second-half lead — thanks to their defensive work.