NEW YORK — All season long, the Cleveland Cavaliers have made their bones on the defensive end of the court, topping the charts in Points allowed for each possession And He holds 29 opponents under 100 points – by far the most of any team in the NBA.
The Cavs hit an even-numbered 30 Friday night, holding the Knicks to just 99 points in Game 3 of their opening round series and limiting New York to an offensive efficiency rating (106.5 points per 100 possessions) that could have been arranged Matt in the past in the NBA during the regular season.
However: The Cavs lost by 20, thanks to one of the bleakest offensive performances you’ll see in a playoff game.
The Friday 99-79 game featured the Cleveland team First 20-point loss of the seasonand them The game with the fewest points scored in the season; Indeed, this is the first time in the 2022-23 campaign that No team in the NBA has scored less than 80 in a game. Cleveland’s previous low water sign for the season? that 81 outings Against … Knicks, again on December 4, in Game 1 after Tom Thibodeau tightened his turnover.
That December blowout sparked a run that would transform the Knicks from sub . 500 into one of the league’s best teams over the next four months, leading them to 48 wins, a No. 5 seed in the East and a . A date with Cleveland in the first round. The latter gives New York a 2-1 lead in a best-of-seven series, a chance to seize control with another win in Game 4 on Sunday and a newfound confidence — as long as they don’t get the better of themselves — they can dictate the terms of engagement to the higher-ranked Cavaliers.
Knicks All-Star Julius Randle said after a faltering effort that saw New York collect 14 steals, five blocked shots, and 12 deflections. “I feel like we’re playing really well all series on the defensive side. The only thing that really hurts us is our turnovers. We had a lot of turnovers in the second quarter last game. So we cleaned that up, and we were able to get stops and run them.”
The Cavs seemed confused and may have overthought some things
Cleveland, on the other hand, had perhaps the messiest and worst-executed game of the season, at a pretty terrible time for it.
Before the game, coach JB Bickerstaff fielded questions about Madison Square Garden — about whether he feels this building is a little different in the playoffs and whether he has any concern that young players like Game 2 champions Darius Garland and Evan Mobley might shake a bit during the game. The first road playoff in the most famous arena in the world.
“I guess if you let the outside noise permeate the ground, you can think about it, right?” Bickerstaff said. “At the end of the day, our message to our guys is, no matter what, it’s five-on-five basketball, and if you focus on the work in front of you, none of the other things outside the lines will matter. … If you allow those things to be a resource A distraction, it can affect you. But if you just go out and do the job in front of you, you’ll be fine.”
The Cavs just couldn’t do the job on Friday. Right out of the gate shooting 8-for-24 with four turnovers in the first quarter – Bickerstaff’s rocky start later Partially attributed to nerves — and never got on the right track. After his stellar Game 2, Garland had the worst night of his young career. Despite being primarily guarded by frequently mismatched goalie Jalen Bronson, Garland missed his first nine shots, entering the first half with only three points and finishing with a cool 10 points on 4-of-21 shooting.
Garland’s nightmare was more vivid, but he was hardly the only knight to disappoint. The frontcourt of Garrett Allen and Evan Mobley once again struggled with New York fitness, as Mitchell Robinson made his way to the front of the rim for five offensive rebounds, blocked two shots, stole two in the paint on the other end, and partnered with Randle and backup center Isaiah Hartenstein to deliver enough of a blocker at the rim — To hear him say it – the Cavs decided they didn’t feel like venturing inside anymore:
Outside of Mitchell (a team-high 22 points) and LeVert (who scored all 17 of his points after halftime), the Cavs could never buy a bucket for most of the game. As Mitchell summed it up succinctly: “We shot like shit.”
The failures extended beyond the shooting. The Cavs have largely given up on the success they found Targeting Bronson on offense and shuffled the ball screens for Bronson much more than they did in the second game, only returning to his more successful attacking strategy in the second half, having already found his rhythm in scoring and making play. Ricky Rubio briefly reappeared in the rotation; Isaac Okoro, who was benched after the first minutes of Game 2, was dusted off for seven minutes in the second and third quarters, as Cleveland won by 10 points.
It felt a little bit like the Cavs, in preparation for the adjustments they felt the Knicks would make coming out of Game 2, tweaked things on their own in a way that was probably very clever by half…
… which, together with a sleazy shooting of all sorts of looks, doomed them.
Young Nix finally showed up
While Garland and Mobley stumbled to perform strongly in Game 2, the prized New York prospects found a solid footing. RJ Barrett rebounded with a solid outing, scoring 19 points along with eight rebounds, three assists and a steal. He attacked from the opening end, looking to drive on the smaller Garland when the two were matched, to turn the corner on interleaved deliveries and screens to look for touches of the paint and take chances to run on the floor in transitions from defensive rebounds or turnovers (of which Cleveland committed 20, leading to 28 points). Nix).
“The thing about RJ is that he’s so consistent,” said Thibodeau after the match. “He doesn’t shake. I thought he was really aggressive today. We have to get him into the open ground. When we do that, he’s going to take volleys, he’s going downhill, and it’s hard to protect him.”
After shooting just 6-for-25 in Cleveland, Barrett went 8-of-12 from the ground and made three catches in six attempts. When asked after the game when he felt he had his shot online, Barrett asked a Knicks communications staffer what day it was; When he was told that it was Friday, he replied, “Well, until Wednesday.”
After scoring just three points in Game 1 and only starting after Game 2 spiraled out of control, Emmanuel Kwikley nailed the form that made him a Sixth Man of the Year finalist, scoring 11 points, a pair of assists and a solid defense in 23 minutes – winning During which the Knicks beat Cleveland by 27 points.
Jalen Bronson got a little help from his friends
Quickley also played a role in helping Brunson get back into the groove after a 5-of-17 performance in Game 2. Quickley put up seven ball screens for Brunson on Friday, according to Second Spectrum, joining Josh Hart (11 screens), Barrett (six screens) and Quentin Grimes (2 screens before leaving the game with an extension Left shoulder bruise) in the Draft trying to force the Cleveland guards to switch to Bronson at pick-and-roll.
“I feel like they made this adjustment and it was really good for them,” LeVert said after the game. “This is definitely something we can communicate better. I have to do a better job of listening to the top of the coverage and making sure I’m sending it in the right direction.”
These sentry screens allowed him to attack the defending flank he preferred—Mitchell, Garland, LeVert, Sir Osman, whoever—without fear of Mobley and the long-limbed Allen lurking on the other side of the screen, waiting to trap him at the point of attack. They worked: After 1 quarter out of 5, Bronson got into the flow, alternating between catching his own shot in isolation and drawing the assist before kicking to a teammate ready to either catch and shoot or catch the drive:
Once Bronson took off, the gates opened. He finished with 21 points on 10-of-18 shooting with six assists, leading the dance and taking the Knicks out to the racing.
“Let me just let the game come to me,” Bronson said after the game. “I have to trust my teammates. They have a lot of faith in me and I have a lot of faith in them. We’re all on the same page. We all click.”
If they’re able to keep clicking on Sunday, the Cavs could find themselves heading to Cleveland staring at elimination, with regrets for the chances — and bushels of title — wasted.
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