The last time the Cavaliers visited the Garden, the Knicks started a long winning streak. Maybe Tuesday’s win will have that same effect.
At the least, it snapped a four-game losing skid that was threatening to ruin all the good vibes from a strong first half to the season. Instead of having to answer questions about how they can repair 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 competed. We did everything we could and we trusted each other,” Jalen Brunson said. “I can’t really explain it. Tonight we just had that extra oomph, because we knew how we played the last couple of games.”
Randle was the star, scoring 36 points, hitting a career-high-tying eight 3-pointers and grabbing 13 rebounds along with four assists. His 3-pointer with 2:07 left gave the Knicks the lead for good. But he had plenty of help.
RJ Barrett added 16 points and Brunson had 14. The bench produced 27 points, and Isaiah Hartenstein was a key factor with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks, including the game-saver. The Cavaliers were down two in the final seconds and star guard Donovan Mitchell drove past Randle into the lane. Hartenstein rejected his shot, and Evan Mobley missed as the horn sounded.
“It was terrific, a monster play by him,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Hartenstein. “He played a super game all-around.”
After losing four straight games, in which their defense mostly let them down, the Knicks got back to basics. They contained the Cavaliers’ explosive guard duo of Mitchell and Darius Garland, limiting them to 15 of 41 shooting and held Cleveland (29-20) to eight second-chance points after yielding an average of 23.8 over the previous four games. They snapped a string of three straight games giving up at least 35 points in the first quarter, holding the Cavaliers to 27.
“Obviously, we fell short for four games in a row, and the last two games going into the fourth quarter we’re in position to win and didn’t do enough things to win the game,” Thibodeau said. So then how do you get the urgency to get that done, and not to get discouraged, to get more determined? ‘OK, we have to make this go our way.’ That’s what I liked. I liked the fight in the team, I liked the urgency that we had.”
It was looking like another lost evening at the Garden for the Knicks (26-23) after they flushed an 11-point first-half lead and trailed by eight midway through the third quarter, forcing Thibodeau to use two timeouts in the first seven minutes. of the period.
Whatever he said after the second one worked. The Knicks reeled off 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-on 3-pointer in the waning seconds. After the shot, he flexed to the crowd and playfully talked trash to Cavaliers assistant coach Luke Walton, his coach with the Lakers.
“Let him know he’s too small, too,” Randle said with a chuckle.
Asked how the ball felt coming out of his hands, Randle said: “[Like] money.”
All the Knicks were able to smile after this needed win. Riding a five-game losing streak into facing the NBA-best Celtics in Boston on Thursday night would not have been pleasant. The hope is this victory starts 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 get a win,” Brunson said. “It’s easy to win games when everyone’s clicking, and the ball is going in the hoop, but to win games when things aren’t going your way, this is a good stepping stone for us.”