The last time the Cavaliers visited the garden, the Knicks started a long winning streak. Maybe Tuesday’s win will have the same effect.
At the very least, it came down to a four-game loss that threatened to ruin all the good spirits of a strong first half of the season. Instead of answering questions about how to fix their broken defense without injured center Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks were able to breathe a sigh of relief after one of their best performances in recent weeks.
Julius Randle started hot and never really cooled, the bench produced in both halves and the maligned defense was solid as the Knicks beat the Cavaliers 105-103 for the second time in three tries.
“We took part in competitions. We did everything we could and we trusted each other,” said Jalen Brunson. “I can’t really explain it. Tonight we just had that extra momentum because we knew how we’d played the last few games.
Randle was the star, scoring 36 points, hitting a career-high with eight 3-pointers and tallying 13 rebounds and four assists. His 3-pointer with 2:07 left finally gave the Knicks the lead. But he had a lot of help.
Julius Randle, who had a game-high 36 points, had a jump in the Knicks’ 105-103 win over the Cavaliers. Corey Sipkin
Isaiah Hartenstein blocks Donovan Mitchell’s game-defining effort and preserves a Knicks win Corey Sipkin
RJ Barrett added 16 points and Brunson had 14. The bench added 27 points and Isaiah Hartenstein was a key contributor with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks including the game saver. The Cavaliers were down by two in the closing seconds and star guard Donovan Mitchell drove past Randle into lane. Hartenstein declined his shot and Evan Mobley missed when the horn sounded.
“It was terrific, a monster game from him,” said coach Tom Thibodeau about Hartenstein. “He played a great game all round.”
Jalen Brunson, who scored 14 points, drives into the basket in the Knicks’ win. Corey Sipkin
After losing four straight games in which their defense mostly let them down, the Knicks went back to basics. They included the Cavaliers’ explosive guard duo of Mitchell and Darius Garland, limited them to 15 shots from 41 and held Cleveland (29-20) to eight second chance points after averaging 23, scored 8. They ripped a streak of three straight games and gave up at least 35 points in the first quarter, keeping the Cavaliers on 27.
“Obviously we fell short four games in a row and in the last two games going into the fourth quarter we’re in a position to win and didn’t do enough to win the game,” Thibodeau said. “Then how do you get the urgency to get this done and not get discouraged to become more determined? ‘Okay, we’ve got to do this our way.’ I liked that. I liked the team fight, I liked the urgency we had.”
Donovan Mitchell, who scored 24 points, shoots in the Knicks’ win over Jericho Sims. NBAE via Getty Images
It looked like another lost evening at the Garden for the Knicks (26-23) after opening up an 11-point lead in the first half and falling eight points down midway through the third quarter, forcing Thibodeau to play in the opening seven minutes to take two breaks from the period.
Whatever he said after the second, it worked. The Knicks picked up 19 of the game’s next 25 points, turning that eight-point deficit into a five-point lead. Randle scored eight of those points, including a deep, straight 3-pointer in the dwindling seconds. After the shot, he leaned in front of the crowd and playfully talked trash to Cavaliers’ assistant coach Luke Walton, his coach with the Lakers.
Aaron Judge and his wife Samantha watch the action during the Knicks’ win. Corey Sipkin
“Tell him he’s too small, too,” Randle said with a chuckle.
When asked how the ball feels out of his hands, Randle said, “[Like] Money.”
All the Knicks could smile after that much-needed win. It would not have been pleasant to go on a five-game losing streak to face the NBA-best Celtics in Boston on Thursday night. The hope of this victory puts the mixed Knicks back in the right direction.
“The best thing about that game is that it wasn’t the cleanest, it wasn’t the smoothest, but we found a way to carve it out and win,” Brunson said. “It’s easy to win games when everyone is clicking and the ball goes in the hoop, but winning games when things aren’t going your way is a good stepping stone for us.”