For one night, the New York Knicks looked like the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed that stunned the NBA two years ago.
With the Donovan Mitchell trade saga and the humiliating loss to Jalen Brunson’s former team 24 hours earlier serving as motivations, the Knicks responded with a stout defense in a 92-81 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers Sunday at Madison Square Garden that cooled down the warming seat of Tom Thibodeau a bit.
“We needed it. We had to start it off somehow. I’m just happy we came away with a win the way we did. It was a grind offensively. But the fact that our defense was able to keep us in it is a good sign.”Jalen Brunson postgame via NBA.com
Brunson led the Knicks with 23 points, while Julius Randle and RJ Barrett added 18 and 15, but the team’s stifling defense on the Cavaliers’ All-Star backcourt made the difference.
Mitchell and Darius Garland could only combine for 40 points on 13 of 41 field goals.
Mitchell was held to 8 of 22 shooting night. He was a combined 6 of 16 against his main three defenders — 4 of 8 against Quentin Grimes, 0-3 against Brunson and 2-5 against Barrett, per NBA.com ‘s matchup tracking data.
“We just didn’t make shots. It’s just one of those nights. We just didn’t play well tonight. It can’t always be sunshine and rainbows. This isn’t who we are. We know we can play better and we will.”Donovan Mitchell postgame via NBA.com
Mitchell’s All-Star backcourt partner, Garland, was also held by Barrett to 1 of 6 shooting night. Garland missed his combined five attempts against Immanuel Quickley and Miles McBride, who surprisingly jumped over Derrick Rose and Cam Reddish in Thibodeau’s new nine-man rotation. The Cavaliers’ All-Star point guard shot 5 of 19 overall.
The Knicks held the Cavaliers to 35 percent shooting and limited their opponents to less than 100 points for the first time this season.
Thibodeau reverted back to a shorter rotation, a ploy that worked early in the Knicks’ 3-2 West Coast trip as a response to another embarrassing home loss to Oklahoma City Thunder last month.
It worked wonders again to snap a five-game losing streak at home.
“We sustained the effort from start to finish. And [the Cavaliers] put a lot of pressure on you. You can’t let your guard down, but I like the way we played. I thought we played very unselfish offensively. It was a good win.Tom Thibodeau postgame via NBA.com
Indeed, it was a Thibodeau signature wire-to-wire win against a superstar-led playoff contender.
Now, the question is can this Knicks team sustain this Thibodeau-type defensive effort?
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