Knicks fall short against Cavs to start brutal road trip

The New York Knicks1-2 punch failed to connect on a final blow as the Cleveland Cavaliers survived a thriller, 95-93, Monday night at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Northeast Ohio.

With the Cavaliers missing two-thirds of their imposing frontline, Kevin Love stepped up and his three-point barrage in the third quarter opened up a 15-point cushion. The Knicks rallied behind the two-way play of rookie Quentin Grimes and RJ Barrett’s strong fourth quarter to give themselves a shot at the end.

But Barrett misfired an ill-advised three with still five seconds in the game, and Julius Randle’s prayer at the buzzer was way off.

Randle got outplayed by Love, who exploded for 20 points, including three straight three-pointers in a rousing third quarter and 12 rebounds off the bench, and rookie Evan Mobley, who put up 15 points and 12 rebounds. The Cavaliers survived without Jarrett Allen (non-COVID illness) and Laurie Markkanen, who sustained a sprained right ankle in their previous win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Knicks also missed their starting center Mitchell Robinson and Nerlens Noel admirably filled in with 13 rebounds, two steals, and two points. But the Knicks shot themselves in the foot with a lousy third quarter and another poor showing at the foul line. They missed 10 free throws in a game that could have gone either way.

Barrett’s 11 points in the fourth quarter went for naught when he opted for a long three-pointer instead of attacking the lane in the final five seconds.

Despite missing his first five three-point attempts, Darius Garland was unfazed and hit the go-ahead trey that shattered a 91-deadlock with 83 seconds left. Garland scored only 13 points on 6 of 19 field goals, but he saved his best for last. He added 12 assists for the Cavaliers, who improved to 29-19.

The Knicks slipped out of the top 10 in the Eastern Conference with a 23-25 mark. A win could have given them the solo 10th spot. Instead, they travel to Miami to face the Heat, currently the East’s best team, reeling from a heartbreaking loss. The brutal road trip will culminate in Milwaukee against the defending champion Bucks on Friday. Then a two-game homestand against the Kings and Grizzlies will precede a killer West Coast trip against five playoff contenders (Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors, and Blazers).

The Knicks blew a big one in Cleveland.

Barrett led the Knicks with 24 points, five rebounds, and four assists. Randle reverted to dismal shooting and bled for 18 points on 17 shots. He grabbed seven boards and had the same number of assists and turnovers with four. All starters posed negative plus-minus, with Randle having the worst rating (-220). The Knicks also drew little contribution from Evan Fournier (7 points on 3 of 9 shooting), while Alec Burks was scoreless in his return to the second unit.

After sitting out the front end of a back-to-back schedule, Kemba Walker returned but was barely effective in 19 minutes, coming away with eight points and only one assist. His backup, Immanuel Quickley, was a brutal 1 for 10 from the field but handed out six assists and the Knicks outscored the Cavaliers by six during his 26-minute stint.

Grimes tried to answer Love in the third quarter, hitting two big three-pointers to pull the Knicks within seven and set up the thrilling fourth quarter. He scored 12 points — all from beyond the arc. Obi Toppin also delivered an inspiring performance off the bench with 13 and six rebounds. Toppin shot 3 of 4 from deep. Grimes and Toppin had the best plus-minus with plus-21 and plus-20, respectively. But the Cavaliers’ bench outscored the Knicks’ second unit, 38-34.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

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