The Knicks’ latest loss on the road to the Cavs by a two-point margin is exacerbated by their many misses at the free-throw line.
The New York Knicks (23-25) dropped a wire-to-wire contest with the Cleveland Cavaliers (29-19) by a final score of 95-93. It was a game defined by more poor free-throw shooting from the Knicks, which could have decided the game in New York’s favor. Instead, it was their downfall as they drop their first game of their road trip to a surging Cavs team.
It was the Knicks’ first contest against the Cavs since Cleveland’s veteran guard Ricky Rubio had a career-high 37 points in a rout of New York on November 7th, 2021. Rubio (torn ACL) sat out in their game against the Knicks on Monday night, but the surprisingly potent Cavaliers still presented a threat to New York in The Land.
It also marked the return of Kemba Walker to the starting lineup after he sat out of yesterday’s matinee victory against the Los Angeles Clippers with a sore knee. Nerlens Noel also returned to the starting lineup as Mitchell Robinson (sprained ankle) was ruled out of the game.
The first quarter began with some nice looks for Knicks guard Evan Fournier, who was able to capitalize off of unselfishness from Julius Randle and RJ Barrett. In addition to his passing, Randle went 2-of-3 from deep in the opening frame. Cleveland was able to respond quickly with easy drives to the paint, savvy dimes from rising star Darius Garland and a lift from bench veteran Kevin Love (six points, six rebounds in the first quarter). While neither team was dominant over the other through most of the first period, Cleveland started to pull away against New York’s bench to hold a five-point lead heading into the second quarter.
The Knicks had to tighten up their defense to try and get back into the fold of things against the Cavaliers during the second quarter, and that is exactly what they did on the first few sequences of the second period. Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley were specifically bothersome for Cleveland’s backcourt, and their ball movement helped to revive their offense after a stretch of stagnancy. Obi Toppin greatly benefited from the bench’s decisiveness on the floor, going 2-of-2 from deep and scoring eight points in seven minutes. Great ball movement and solid defense against rookie big man Evan Mobley and the Cavs’ paint penetrators in the second helped New York tie things up along with Randle’s 11 points, five rebounds and four assists.
KEEP SLEEPING ON MY GUY pic.twitter.com/DrMFEcmSvx
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) January 25, 2022
The third began just as the second ended: an aggressive take at the basket for a layup for New York. This time, it was from Randle, who was looking to use his strength to get whatever he wanted in the paint often during the contest with Jarrett Allen out. Unfortunately, things deteriorated for the ‘Bockers from there, as Kevin Love caught fire in the third quarter from deep and the Cavs outscored the Knicks 26-19. The starters looked tired from having played a matinee yesterday afternoon, but New York’s bench went on a 7-0 run to end the third to pull themselves back within seven of the Cavs. The Knicks needed to get the ball moving again and they also needed to start hitting their free throws if they were seeking to keep things contentious leading into the fourth quarter.
The Knicks’ bench unit was out on the floor to start the fourth quarter as they ended the third on a high note, looking to have found their rhythm from the first half. They continued to flourish, especially with their defensive effort. Grimes was hot to start the period and kept pulling New York back into the fold, three-pointer after three-pointer. New York was within three of Cleveland with just under five minutes to go, and it was clear that head coach Tom Thibodeau was going to rely on his bench to close the game out with the addition of RJ Barrett and Randle. Barrett and Grimes dominated for New York, with Barrett taking control of the paint scoring and Grimes as a threat from beyond the arc. Barrett was able to hit two clutch free throws to tie things up, but the Cavs also capitalized at the line and were able to stay in the lead and get the wire to wire victory over New York.
New York missed 10 free throws, which would have gotten them a hard-fought victory in Cleveland. Instead, they shot 52% from the charity stripe in the loss.
Julius Randle missed the last shot of the game, but finished the night with a respectable 18 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. RJ Barrett had another solid showing, scoring a team-high 24 points while grabbing five boards and dishing out four assists. The rest of New York’s starters were non-factors on the offensive end. Nerlens Noel, who started in place of the injured Mitchell Robinson, scored two points but grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds. Evan Fournier finished the evening scoring seven points. Kemba Walker scored eight points, had one assist, and one steal in his return to the starting lineup.
The bench provided many glimmers of hope for New York in this loss. Grimes was clutch down the stretch and finished the game with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 12 minutes of action. Toppin also looked back to the form he was in prior to his stint on the health and safety protocols list. He had 13 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes on the floor. Quickley provided a bench-high six assists but looked shaky and indecisive down the stretch of the game as Walker sat. Alec Burks grabbed three rebounds and had four assists but no points. Taj Gibson was effective in his minutes at center, scoring six points and collecting eight rebounds in the loss.
The Knicks will go on to face the Miami Heat on Wednesday night in Miami. Miami is the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, and they consistently give New York trouble in their meetups. The Knicks will be trying to right themselves before getting bogged down with losses so early on this road trip.