The Knicks jumped out of the gate clicking on all cylinders, taking a 26-10 lead with just under 4 minutes to play in the 1st quarter. New York never looked back, keeping a commanding lead for the rest of the night. The Cavaliers cut the Knicks advantage down to as low as 5 points after that, early in the 2nd Quarter. The Knicks responded with an 18-4 run. Julius Randle led the charge having his best game as a Knick with 30 points (23 at the half), on 12-17 shooting, while collecting 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Randle also picked up 2 steals and only turned the ball over 1 time. He looked like he was playing free and easy, not forcing shots and letting the game come to him all night. Marcus Morris Sr. scored 23 points, with a team leading +27 plus-minus and 12 made free throws. RJ Barrett added 15 points, 2 steals, and 2 blocked shots. Taj Gibson only scored 7 points in 16 minutes, but posted a team leading 8 rebounds and defensive rating of 93.5. Frank Ntilikina (6 points and 6 assists) and Damyean Dotson (11 points off the bench) gave the Knicks solid minutes all evening. The defense and ball movement always picks up when these two are in the game. In fact, when they’ve been on the court together this season (47 minutes), the Knicks are giving up 74 points and scoring 117.5 points per 100 possessions (statistics via Tommy Beer). Kevin Knox had a poor night for the Knicks, shooting an abysmal 2-10 and having the worst plus-minus on the team (-13). Mitchell Robinson continued his fantastic play off the pine, grabbing 8 rebounds and rejecting 4 shots. Robinson did have issues with foul trouble again, picking up 5 personal fouls.
Why The Knicks Won
The Knicks won this game thanks to their fantastic play from their starters, winning the hustle stats, and moving the ball to get easy baskets. The Cavaliers starting lineup combined for 15 turnovers and a plus-minus of -134. The Knicks starters combined for only 4 turnovers and a stellar plus-minus of +102. The defense of the Knicks guards, containing Collin Sexton, played a major role in these numbers. Sexton posted a career high 31 points against the Knicks the previous time they played, but was held to 14 points, shooting 5-13 (38%) from the floor. Tristan Thompson who is averaging a double-double this season, finished with a lackluster 9 points and 5 rebounds. With the Cavaliers’ star player, Kevin Love out for the game, other Cleveland players had a chance to step up and didn’t take it. Kevin Porter Jr. did take advantage of his increased role in the offense though, scoring a career-high 18 points. The Knicks crushed Cleveland in the hustle stats. New York turned the ball over only 7 times, picked up 8 steals, and swatted 10 shots! The Cavaliers turned the ball over 20 times, gained 2 steals, and had 1 lonesome block. The Knicks also finished the game with 19 offensive rebounds, helping them out-rebound the Cavaliers 60-56. Finally, the Knicks ball movement (272 passes), helped New York score 54 points in the paint and go to the line 35 times!
The Knicks are starting to have consistent rotations and it seems to be helping this roster gel. The starting lineup looked the best they have all season in this game. The bench will need to play better, if the Knicks are going to beat better teams, but Mitchell Robinson’s move to the bench has had a very positive impact. Robinson logs plenty of minutes with the starters too, thus it is increasingly important that he stops being plagued by foul trouble. Kevin Knox and Bobby Portis can be very beneficial, doing most of the scoring for the 2nd unit. However, they must play better defensively and shoot more efficiently on offense. Both have defensive ratings above 108, offensive ratings under 100, and are shooting under 40% from the field. The Knicks will be tested in their next matchup, facing the 8-5, 4-0 at home, Philadelphia 76ers on the road.