The last time the Cavaliers visited the Garden, the Knicks began a long winning streak. Perhaps Tuesday’s victory will have the same effect.
If anything, it snapped a four game losing skid that threatened to ruin any good vibes from a strong first half of the season. Instead of having to answer questions about how to fix their broken defense without injured center Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks were able to exhale after one of their best performances in recent weeks.
Julius Randle started hot and never really cooled off, the bench produced in both halves and the maligned defense was solid as the Knicks beat the Cavaliers, 105-103, for the second time in three tries.
“We participated. We did everything we could and we trusted each other,” said Jalen Brunson. “I can’t really explain it. Tonight we had that little bit extra because we knew how we played the last few games.”
Randle was the star, scoring 36 points, hitting eight 3-pointers and scoring 13 rebounds along with four assists. His 3-pointer with 2:07 left gave the Knicks the lead for good. But he had a lot of help.
RJ Barrett added 16 points and Brunson had 14. The bench added 27 points and Isaiah Hartenstein was a key contributor with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks, including the game saver. The Cavaliers trailed by two in the closing seconds and star guard Donovan Mitchell drove past Randle onto the track. Hartenstein disallowed his shot and Evan Mobley missed when the horn sounded.
“It was great, a monster game from him,” said coach Tom Thibodeau about Hartenstein. “He played a super game everywhere.”
After losing four straight games in which their defense largely failed them, the Knicks returned to the starting line-up. They contained the Cavaliers’ explosive guard duo of Mitchell and Darius Garland, limiting them to 15 of 41 shots and holding Cleveland (29-20) to eight rematch points after averaging 23.8 over the previous four games. They broke a three-game streak, giving up at least 35 points in the first quarter, leaving the Cavaliers at 27.
“Obviously we fell short four games in a row and the last two games going into the fourth quarter are in a position to win and haven’t done enough things to win the game,” said Thibodeau. “So how do you get the urgency to get that done, and not to get discouraged, to become more determined? “Okay, we have to handle this our way.” That’s what I liked. I loved the team fight, I loved the urgency we had.
It looked like another lost night at the Garden for the Knicks (26-23) after they washed away an 11-point lead in the first half and trailed by eight midway through the third quarter, forcing Thibodeau two timeouts to be used in the first seven minutes of the period.
Whatever he said after the second one worked. The Knicks won 19 of the game’s next 25 points, turning that eight-point deficit into a five-point lead. Randle scored eight of those points, including a deep, straight three-pointer in the waning seconds. After the shot, he leaned toward the crowd and playfully talked nonsense to Cavaliers assistant coach Luke Walton, his coach with the Lakers.
“Let him know he’s too short, too,” Randle said with a chuckle.
Asked how the ball felt when it came out of his hands, Randle said: “[Like] money.”
All the Knicks could laugh after this much-needed win. It wouldn’t have been pleasant to ride a five-game losing streak on Thursday night to face the NBA’s top Celtics in Boston. The hope is that this win will put the streaky Knicks back in the right direction.
“The best thing about this game is it wasn’t the cleanest, it wasn’t the smoothest, but we found a way to grind it out and win,” said Brunson. “It’s easy to win games when everyone clicks and the ball goes in the ring, but to win games when things go against us, this is a good stepping stone for us.”