The New York Knicks didn’t just defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference playoffs on Friday night; they also made a statement about how the remainder of the series should go.
The Knicks won 99-79, allowing the Cavs to score the fewest points of any club in the NBA this season, to take a 2-1 series lead. They destroyed a Cavs team that was buoyed by Tuesday’s decisive Game 2 win and felt it was prepared for the loud setting that awaited them at Madison Square Garden.
“We were locked in,” Knicks guard Jalen Brunson said. “It’s just a credit to the coaching staff for getting us ready and everyone just locking in on our game plan and executing and getting everyone on the same page.”
Both teams looked off in the first half as they adjusted to the emotion of the sellout crowd, but it was the Knicks who took control of the game by tightening up on defence and holding Cavs guard Darius Garland to a 4-for-21 performance from the field after he torched the Knicks for 32 points in Game 2. After seeming disconnected during Tuesday’s Game 2 defeat, the Knicks played with togetherness and thrived off the atmosphere in the arena.
“I thought we had good overall activity,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Brunson, who ended with 21 points and six assists, definitely delivered for his squad. He set the tone for the team in the second half, making numerous important plays to put the game out of reach. The Knicks also capitalised on the Cavs’ 20 turnovers, converting them into 28 points in a game when baskets were few.
“I think we kind of shot ourselves in the foot on that one,” Cavs standout guard Donovan Mitchell said. I believe it was just one of those instances where you’re just playing fast and trying to achieve so much in one play. At the end of the day, you’ll take the aggressiveness. Instead of being timid, you may relax down. That, I believe, is the most important factor. We’ll fix it. I had six myself. That is not an option for a leader. That’s on me, and other things are establishing the tone.”
Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff shared Mitchell’s opinion, stating that the Cavs’ inability to create an offensive rhythm began to affect how the team played defence later in the game.
“I think it was nerves early on,” Bickerstaff added. “As the game progressed, it became more about trust than anything else.” We lost faith in doing the right thing and sought to accomplish everything on our own. The same thing occurs when it leaks into our defence. We’re not in our places, and we’re not doing the things that we need to do to get the stops that we’re capable of getting.”
Aside from establishing their will on defence, the Knicks benefited from a rejuvenated RJ Barrett, who provided a significant boost. Friday night. Barrett replied with 19 points in Game 3 after shooting 6-for-25 in Games 1 and 2 in Cleveland, helping the club get back on track after a first quarter in which both teams managed to score only 34 points.
While the Knicks will host playoff games in 2021, Friday was the first time in ten years that Madison Square Garden was packed to capacity for a postseason game because COVID-related attendance limits were still in place two years ago. Barrett, like many of his teammates, recognised the significance of playing in front of such a boisterous audience.
“As a basketball player, you grow up thinking about moments like these,” Barrett said. “It was electric in there, and I’m glad we get to come back Sunday.”