Jalen Brunson scored 23 points, RJ Barrett added 21 and the New York Knicks downed the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-95 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since 2013.
The Knicks easily controlled a series that was more one-sided than expected, even after Julius Randle aggravated his left ankle injury and missed the second half.
New York won the opener at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, overpowered the Cavs twice at noisy Madison Square Garden and then returned to Cleveland to finish the job. The fifth-seeded Knicks will meet the Miami-Milwaukee winner next.
Brunson was the consistent ingredient throughout the series for the Knicks, who signed the stocky guard as a free agent last summer before their attempt to acquire Donovan Mitchell in a trade from Utah fell apart and he landed in Cleveland.
Brunson averaged 24 points in the series and led New York in scoring all four wins while outplaying Mitchell for the second straight postseason. Last year, Brunson was with Dallas when he got the best of Mitchell.
Mitchell scored 28 and Darius Garland 21 for the Cavs, who won 51 games during the regular season but whose inexperience showed throughout their first playoff series in five years. The Cavs weren’t ready.
A bigger issue, though, seemed to be Cleveland’s toughness. The Cavs got pushed around and outrebounded in all four losses, including 48-30 in the clincher.
New York center Mitchell Robinson finished with`18 rebounds — 11 offensive — in Game 5 and the 7-footer didn’t shy away from calling out the Cavs for being soft after Game 3, saying they appeared to be shaken.
Darius Garland fouls out of Game 5
1:22, fourth quarter: Darius Garland has fouled out of Game 5. He received an ovation as he walked to the bench.
2:45, fourth quarter: It is perhaps fitting that back-to-back offensive rebounds will go down as the likely daggers to the Cavs’ playoff hopes. Mitchell Robinson, on back-to-back possessions, got put-backs to go, and the Knicks now lead 100-88 with under three minutes remaining.
4:24, fourth quarter: The Cavs’ backs are now super-glued to the wall.
They trail the Knicks 96-84 with only 4:24 left, and with New York having possession. The Knicks’ offensive rebounding, which not only has led to 16 second-chance points, but has taken away valuable time off the clock, has just about ended the Cavs’ hopes.
6:13, fourth quarter: Another offensive rebound for the Knicks, another second-chance basket.
The Cavs couldn’t corral a rebound, leading to a jump-ball between Mitchell Robinson and Darius Garland. Robinson won the jump-ball and then later converted an easy alley-oop dunk to extend the Knicks’ lead to 96-84.
As Robinson and Garland fought for the ball on the rebound, Robinson rolled over. Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff is giving any ref who will listen an ear-full, arguing his case.
Knicks lose Julius Randle to ankle injury
Though they got the win, the Knicks may have lost Julius Randle for the near future.
Randle, with just less than 90 seconds left in the first half, rose up to contest a LeVert jump shot near the free-throw line. As he came back down, Randle’s left ankle landed right on LeVert’s foot. His ankle rolled hard, and Randle was sent to the court in pain.
“It starts with holding each other accountable, from the coaching staff to the players,” Brunson said of the Knicks stepping up when a player goes down with an injury. “I think we all trust each other, most importantly, and we get to the point where we have situations like that and things aren’t going according to plan, and we find a way to tough it out and keep moving forward and try not to miss a beat.”
Being able to close out this series could be even more important for the Knicks, given the uncertainty surrounding Randle’s ankle.
The Knicks will play the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Miami Heat series. Heat star Jimmy Butler has carried Miami to a 3-1 lead heading into Wednesday night’s Game 5 against the top-seeded Bucks, but the Knicks wouldn’t have to play again until next week if the Bucks are able to come back behind star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.
A Heat-Knicks series would provide plenty of storylines, rekindling a long-simmering rivalry. It would also set up an interesting matchup between Thibodeau and Butler. Butler played for Thibodeau when he was coach of both the Chicago Bulls and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
No matter how the next series unfolds, the Knicks will relish playing at least two more games in front of a raucous environment inside Madison Square Garden. The two sellout crowds made a big difference in Games 3 and 4 against the Cavs as the Knicks fed off the energy in the building and were able to pull away from a young Cavs team that never appeared ready for the playoff stage.
Even Brunson knows that gruff Thibodeau is enjoying being able to deliver the Knicks to this stage in the postseason.
“I think it means a lot, something to be happy about in the short term,” Brunson said. “Not sure if he’ll show that in the short term, but we get to play more basketball, and whenever we get to do that, that gives us another opportunity to get better and move forward and continue to see where we can go.”
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