This New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers playoff matchup offers several intriguing storylines. Donovan Mitchell against his hometown team, whom he almost joined in the summer before his eventual trade to Cleveland.
New York Knicks vs. Cleveland Cavaliers – Who Will Win?
Knicks vs. Cavaliers Playoff Preview
New York’s brass felt that Utah’s trade demands were too steep and decided to step away from negotiations, preferring to keep their assets and young talent. This strategy has paid off very well for the Knicks. Immanuel Quickley has taken a massive step forward and is one of the favorites for the league’s ‘6th Man of the Year’ award. Quentin Grimes has also progressed. Meanwhile, Jalen Brunson, their free agent signing, was an All-Star caliber player this year. Julius Randle had a resurgent year making his second All-Star team averaging 25 ppg. They also made a superb trade for Josh Hart. Overall, the Knicks had a successful year making the Eastern Conference fifth seed.
Cleveland had a very successful season, making the fourth seed in no small part due to the incredible season Donovan Mitchell produced. They were aggressive and decisive in dealing for him, and it’s been a tremendous deal for the organization. Mitchell’s supporting cast of Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Darius Garland is certainly formidable. Arguably they are contenders to make it out of the East. Let’s have a look at the key matchups, along with a series prediction.
Caris LeVert: LeVert is a key X-factor for the Cavs. Outside of their stars, as listed above, they need a strong series from LeVert for them to progress. LeVert has been red-hot these last 10 games shooting 55% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc on 14 points per game.
Arguably the critical unit for the Knicks is their bench. It’s their one strength over the Cavs, as they offer strength and speed in transition that few teams can match. With this in mind, the Knicks series x-factors are:
Immanuel Quickley: Quickley offers the Knicks so much on both ends of the court. He’s been their best-performing perimeter defender, as well as handling the scoring load off the bench. Lately, he’s had to step into the lead guard role while Brunson was resting his ailing wrist, and he’s excelled. In his last 10 games, Quickley averaged 24 points per game and 42% from beyond the arc. A superb season overall.
Josh Hart: Since arriving at the deadline, Hart has quickly become the ‘glue guy’ of the team. He’s been amazingly consistent- a tenacious rebounder, defender, and a beast in transition. How he matches up defensively with Donovan Mitchell down the stretch in games could be the difference in the series.
Donovan Mitchell v Jalen Brunson:
Without question, this is the matchup that will define the series. Brunson has been incredible this season for the Knicks. He is averaging 24 points per game and 6.2 assists while shooting 41% from beyond the arc. Brunson already goes down as one of the Knicks best ever free-agent pickups.
Considering his previous team, the Mavericks, are at home, having failed to make even the play-in, they very much regret losing him in free agency. Their loss has been the Knicks’ gain. He also put the Cavs to the sword in their last matchup- dropping 48 points, nine assists, and shooting 7-12 from three in the Knicks’ 130-116 blowout of the Cavs a few weeks ago. I don’t envisage the Cavs having anyone able to stop his craftiness inside and outside the paint in this series.
Conversely, Mitchell has to merit top-5 MVP consideration, averaging 28 points per game this season on 48% from the field. In his last four games, he’s scored at least 40 points or more. Furthermore, he’s had 14 games of scoring 40 points or more, including a 71-point extravaganza back in February. Mitchell will also be equally motivated to take on his hometown team and look to make them pay for not trading for him when they had the chance. He’ll be buoyed playing at the Garden, no doubt with friends and family in attendance. Some may be daunted playing at the World’s most famous arena, but Mitchell should be right at home- look for him to have a huge series.
How the Knicks Can Win the Series
Julius Randle has to come back healthy for the Knicks to have a shot at the series. Without their All-Star, they don’t have anyone capable of bullying in the paint. Mobley and Allen are a formidable frontcourt duo, and the Knicks need to match that size with Randle coming back to play beside Mitchell Robinson. While Obi Toppin has proven to be a very able deputy during Randle’s sprained ankle, the Cavs are a different kettle of fish entirely, and Brunson needs his scoring co-star.
Mitchell Robinson needs to stay out of foul trouble. ‘Big Mitch’ is one of the best offensive rebounders and rim protectors in the NBA, but he remains very inconsistent. At times if he gets in early foul trouble, making him a non-factor in games. Also, he’s not subtly complained about his role on offense through his social media platforms, which has also affected his play of late. The Knicks need him to be dominant defensively. He could shut down the Cavs’ scoring in the paint if he can deliver.
The key to the series for the Knicks is likely their bench. The Cavs don’t have a bench capable of stopping what Quickley, Hart, Isiah Hartenstein, and Toppin all offer the Knicks in various ways, especially in transition. If Brunson can match Mitchell’s scoring for the most part, and the Knicks bench dominates, this should tilt the series in favor of the Knicks.
How the Cavs Can Win the Series
The Cavs can win this series through their dominant All-Star caliber core of Mitchell and Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Jarret Allen. That is a frighteningly good lineup capable of beating any team in the league. With that core four plus Isaac Okoro- they are 20-9 this season. Caris LeVert has been on fire through April, further strengthening their core. The Cavs undoubtedly have the stronger starting lineup as they possess multiple All-Star pieces.
The Cavs should target RJ Barrett, who has been a sieve on defense this year at the wing spot. When Barrett drives, he will attempt to finish with his left and doesn’t have the handles to weave through defenders- so if the Cavs defenders read his drives correctly, they should be able to stop the Knicks’ third scorer. His shooting percentage falls off a cliff the farther he’s asked to shoot.
It would be wise for the Cavs to target doubling Julius Randle and force him into a bad shot or passing out of the double team. For all Randle’s strengths this year, his decision-making can sometimes let him down under pressure, especially with mid-court traps. He can also lose his cool with officials if he doesn’t dominate early offensively, affecting his game.
The Knicks, as a team, tends to be relatively weak from the free-throw line—especially Mitchell Robinson, who is just a 50% FT shooter. Fouling him before he finishes dunks or lobs could make a difference.
Look also for the Cavs to target Brunson in pick and rolls, leaving an open shooter. The Knicks struggle to defend from beyond the arc.
New York Knicks v Cleveland Cavaliers Playoff Preview- A Glance At the Key Stats
The Knicks are fifth in the league in offensive rating and 19th in defensive rating. They are third in rebounding, 20th in effective field goal and shooting percentage, but 11th in points per game. New York is first in points allowed in the paint. The Cavs are 25th in points per game and 25th in rebounds but rank first in opposition points per game. The Knicks lead the season series 3-1.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
Knicks: Jalen Brunson, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson
Cavs: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen.
This series is going to be a war of attrition. With that in mind, I like the experience of Tom Thibodeau over JB Bickerstaff in a long tight series. I also prefer the Knicks’ depth. They match up well with the Cavs’ half-court style, and the Knicks can change tempo with their superior second unit and move to a transition style that few teams can match.
If the Cavs get hot from beyond the arc, key up on Randle, and Mitchell takes the Knicks to the woodshed, that could edge it in the Cavs’ favor.
Both teams are good at home, but the superior road team has the edge. The Cavs were 20-21, and the Knicks 24-17. All in all, give me the Knicks in six or seven.