Knicks Knock Out Cavaliers in First Series


Erik Drost | Wikimedia Commons

The New York Knicks are moving on to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2013. Jalen Brunson, RJ Barrett and Josh Hart stood out as the lead contributors in a first round series that had the fourth seed Cleveland Cavaliers favorited.

Brunson dominated in the paint and mid range against the lackluster defense of talented guards Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Even when Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff used defensive wings Isaac Okoro and Caris LaVert to defend Brunson, it resulted in either a timely floater, jumpshot or pass out to an open man.

With averages of 24 points in five games, Brunson proved that he can shine on the big stage as a star player. For a second time in his playoff career, he outplayed all-star Donovan Mitchell, who struggled to string together efficient games against a determined Knicks defense.

Mitchell had games where he’d be forced into contested three point shots with the shot clock running down. He was tasked with a heavy offense load that he couldn’t carry because the Cavaliers role players weren’t able to step up. The deciding factor in the Knicks ultimately winning in five games was the different role players that made an impact.

Cavaliers’ RJ Barrett overcame an abysmal six of twenty-five shooting performance in his first two games of the series to become the x-factor in the Knicks winning three straight games. Barrett’s relentless drives to the basket and calculated passes in tight positions surprised Cavaliers’ defenders who were zoned in on Jalen Brunson. Barrett played Robin to Brunson’s Batman with the most well-rounded games in his young NBA career.

The underrated play of this first round series was established by the sensational defensive play of Josh Hart and Mitchell Robinson. Hart, a former Villanova teammate of Jalen Brunson, demonstrated a strong rebounding presence to go along with his bulldozer finesse pushing the ball in the fastbreak. His biggest game of the series came in Game 1 where he dropped an efficient 17 points and 10 rebounds solidifying his place in the Knicks fourth quarter rotation.

When the Knicks traded young wing Cam Reddish and a first round pick for Hart, little did the organization know that he possessed tremendous value to a winning culture. He was a part of blockbuster trades that sent Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers and CJ McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans. Other teams saw him as a valuable asset to use in order to get those all-star players and the Knicks are currently reaping the benefits of his play.

Mitchell Robinson made his mark on every playoff game with his interior defense and active hands on the perimeter. Robinson was injured in the Knicks previous playoff appearance in 2020, so his presence was very much needed against the twin tower duo of Evan Mobley and Jarret Allen. Robinson applied his athleticism against the duo who struggled all series to box him out.

Robinson capped off an amazing series with a 13-point and 18-rebound performance showing that he can hang with the NBA’s best defensive bigs. Any time Brunson or Barrett would blow by their defender, Robinson was always lurking in the paint ready to catch a lob pass or clean up the mess from a missed shot.

What faces the Knicks next is a driven Miami Heat team that shocked the first seed Milwaukee Bucks in five games and the health status of an injured Julius Randle. Randle’s left ankle was reinjured in Game 5 at the end of the second quarter. The Knicks hold three wins in four games against the Heat this season, which gives Knicks fans greater anticipation for another potential playoff series win.