The Knicks were able to erase the Cavs’ homecourt advantage in Game One. Can they keep the momentum going?
It’s house money.
The Knicks did their job by going into Cleveland and stealing Game One of their first round series versus the Cavs. They’ve flipped home court to their advantage and can now possibly come back to New York in full control with a 2-0 series lead. “Steal” might sound like the Knicks aren’t given enough credit for their victory but the Cavs being favored at home was no coincidence — in the regular season, they were dominant on their own floor with a record of 31-10. But this is the playoffs, where regular-season records go out the window, and what the oddsmakers didn’t count on was the combination of New York physicality and stellar bench.
So what’s the plan for Game Two? Stick to what you know.
The Knicks were one of the top rebounding teams in the league this season; they ranked third in the entire NBA and they showed exactly why and how in Game One, out-rebounding the Cavs 51 to 38 and hammering them on the offensive glass, another area where the Knicks ranked tops in the league. A 17-11 advantage on offensive rebounds allowed the ‘Bockers to create multiple second-chance opportunities to score the basketball and settle things down as the game tightened up. The Knicks didn’t play the cleanest game, they played their type of game, using a familiar and successful formula that has gotten them where they are now. A physical and grind-it-out type of style that is synonymous with their coach and has shaped the identity of the team.
The bench play was also a huge factor in the Knicks’ Game One victory. Something that has become one of the hallmarks of the team in recent seasons is their excellent reserve players. The Knicks’ bench scored 37 points compared to the Cavs’ bench scoring just 14, and was able to shine even with the struggles of Sixth Man of the Year candidate Immanuel Quickley. The Knicks’ deep bench is able to thrive because of their Next Man Up mentality; if one guy isn’t able perform, another two are there to take his place, like the severed heads of the hydra. It’s been that way all season and it’s already been shown early in the playoffs. Josh Hart, New York’s trade deadline acquisition and star role player has been a godsend since his arrival and probably hit the biggest shot of game one. But it wasn’t just the scoring of New York’s reserves; they did the dirty work, combining for 22 of the team’s 51 total rebounds. If the Knicks’ bench can continue to overwhelm the Cavs it could be the key to winning the series and moving on to the next round. It’s very hard to contain the all-stars in Cleveland’s lineup, as Donovan Mitchell will continue to get his and Darius Garland will likely bounce back after a quiet debut, but New York can counter with their elite bench players to stay ahead of the curve.
BIG TIME JOSH HART pic.twitter.com/PKb58p4WYX
— The Knicks Wall (@TheKnicksWall) April 16, 2023
The Cavs are a great team and they will adjust to the Knicks in game two but the encouraging sign is that despite RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, and Quickley combining for just 15 points on a putrid 3-21 from the field, the Knicks still managed to pull out the win. They will have to show up offensively at some point if the Knicks hope to win the series. But if the Knicks can keep the rest of the Cavs pacified Donovan Mitchell’s efforts will be for naught. This comes with continuing to make the Cavs uncomfortable in the paint and that starts with Julius Randle bullying Evan Mobley like he did in Game One. As he gets healthier, Randle should be able to be even more physically dominant with the Cavs’ lanky big man, whose one defensive shortcoming is his lack of physicality against bruisers like Randle. On the perimeter, the Knicks’ wing defense can once again come out strong and make Cleveland’s shooters’ lives difficult, especially Darius Garland who struggled outside the paint in Game One.
The Knicks’ game plan is simple and they just need to execute to come home to MSG with a 2-0 lead and the Cavs on the ropes. They must continue to dominate the glass and have solid bench play to supplement the efforts of Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson, neither of whom are totally 100% at the moment. Barrett and Quickley must bounce back on offense as the secondary and tertiary scoring options, especially with the report of Hart being doubtful for Game Two with a sprained ankle. Grimes has to be more assertive with the ball in his hands like he was in the final couple of weeks of the season when he went on a scoring tear — after all, he is the team’s starting shooting guard.
The Knicks control their own destiny and right now can continue to do so if they once again punch Cleveland in the mouth in game two.