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The Knicks Are Close
The New York Knicks are one win away from advancing to the second round of the NBA playoffs. They lead the Cleveland Cavaliers 3-1 in their best-of-seven series and will look to close it out on Wednesday night in Cleveland. It is quite surprising when you consider that Julius Randle has struggled, and Quentin Grimes missed Game 4 with a shoulder injury.
Even with a commanding 3-1 lead this series is far from over. The Cavs are going to be hard to beat at home where they had their performance of the series, Game 2. So, as we preview Game 5 let’s review what the Knicks need to do to close out the series.
Who’s Really The Real Star Guard
As our own J Ellis pointed, it isn’t a forgone conclusion that Donovan Mitchell is the best player in the series. As we previously discussed, this isn’t the first playoff series that Jalen Brunson has outplayed Mitchell, it’s now 2 postseasons in a row. For the rest of this series Brunson needs to continue his stellar play by setting up his teammates and hitting timely shots. The engine of the Knicks’ offense has willed the Knicks to a 3-1 series lead by averaging 29.3 points per game. But look for Donovan Mitchell to bounce back in Game 5 after his worst performance of the series in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden.
The Cavs have a future superstar in Evan Mobley and an all-star caliber Center in Jarrett Allen, but the Knicks have the dominant Bigman in this series, his name is Mitchell Robinson. Mitch has controlled the boards, getting the Knicks multiple 2nd chance point opportunities on offense and has protected the rim on defense. The Cavs are shooting -22% below their season average at the rim because of Robinson. When Mitch exits the game Hartenstein has been very little drop off. Then there is Julius Randle who is playing through injuries but can still be a force in the paint and is one of the best defensive rebounders in the game. The Knicks will need their big men to continue their dominant play to finish off the Cavs.
As good as Brunson has been it still takes an entire team effort to beat a good team like the Cavs. The Knicks were able to win both games at the Garden in part to RJ Barrett’s performance. RJ averaged 22.5 ppg in the home wins, helping to make up for the production usually provided by Julius Randle.
But that won’t be enough as we can expect Darius Garland and Cleveland’s supporting cast to play better at home like they did in Game 2. Knicks will need Josh Hart to continue to play like a dawg on both ends of the floor for 40+ minutes. IQ needs to provide additional playmaking and timely outside shooting. The Knicks might also need Obi to step up again like he did in Game 4 when Thibs for the first time ever decided to close the game with Toppin over Randle.
The key to the game for the Knicks will be to continue to play great defense. They have held the Cavaliers to under 100 points in three of the four games. The Cavaliers have to get their offense going and score over 100 points in order to win. They have struggled to score, averaging just 96.8 points per game. Darius Garland and Evan Mobley are going to try to get into a rhythm early just like RJ did for the Knicks in order to alleviate the scoring burden on Donovan Mitchell. Cleveland can’t expect Mitchell to deliver a Jimmy Butler type performance in order to save their season. It was obvious in Game 4 that Mitchell was exhausted by the 2nd half. The Cavs are also going to need more help from their supporting cast, most notably Caris LeVert, Cedi Osman, and Isaac Okoro. They absolutely need to hit more open shots in order to force the Knicks defense to bend.
This is where the contributions from the Knicks’ perimeter role players will be key. Josh Hart, IQ, and even Deuce will need to outplay their counterparts. The Knicks will almost be guaranteed to advance to the next round if their role players are able to close out on kick out shots on defense and hit some timely open 3s early in the game.