Brunson, Hartenstein, & Team DEFENSE. NY 130 Cleveland 116

Jalen Brunson was electrifying in the first half en route to 48 points; Isaiah Hartenstein played like Bill Walton in the 4th quarter; and the Knick team DEFENSE shut down Cleveland late as NY asserted itself over the Cavaliers with the 130-116 win — in Cleveland on a Friday night.

Not to forget Mitchell Robinson, who dominated the interior in the first half and 3rd quarter before handing the baton to Hartenstein. And Josh Hart who was everywhere making hustle plays. And the rest of the Knicks.

The game was an electric, high-scoring affair in the 1st half, with Brunson and Donovan Mitchell putting on scoring shows. The defense intensified in the 2nd half and the game got chippy, with the refs letting them play.

Brunson won his mano-a-mano scoring duel with Donovan Mitchell, who scored 42.

Afterward, when asked if this win made a statement for the anticipated first-round playoff against Cleveland, Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said no — the goal was to stay focused and improve every game as it has been from the start of the season. “We want to concentrate on improvement. Get ready for the next game. We don’t want to change our approach. It’s easy to get distracted in this league.”

Thibs added, “You guys have to do your job: your job is to try and trick everyone. You want to talk 10 games from now, next year, next month. Our job is to stay locked in and to not let you guys take us off course”

NY improves to 45-33, and a 2.5 game lead over Brooklyn for 5th place in the East with 4 games left. Cleveland falls to 48-30, in 4th place.

1. Brunson Electric — 48 Points, 9 Assists

Julius Randle is out for the last 5 games of the regular season with the badly sprained ankle. The Knicks had just gotten Jalen Brunson back after he missed a bunch of games with a badly sprained ankle and then sprained wrist. Brunson was back for the last game but looked rusty.

In this game, the rust was gone. Brunson put on a SHOW from the start — driving for buckets, hitting 3’s, and hitting teammates for passes in a high-scoring, fast-paced “NBA action” game.

Brunson rested at the start of the 4th, but came back in midway thru the period and hit big, killer shots late to ice the win.

2. Robinson Dominant Inside

Cleveland had a 5-point lead after 1 quarter, but the Knicks pulled ahead in the 2nd quarter to lead 79-72 at the half. Jarrett Allen was out for Cleveland and Mitchell Robinson DOMINATED inside with defense, rebounding and shot blocking.

Robinson dominated on the offensive boards in particular — with 9 offensive rebounds to get Knicks second chances.

Robinson would end the night with 10 points on 4-5 shooting, 14 rebounds (9 offensive) and 2 blocks in only 22 minutes.

3. Hartenstein a WALL in the 4th

Robinson only played 22 minutes because Isaiah Hartenstein played so well in the 4th that Thibs never took him out.

Hartenstein was a WALL on the defensive end — coming up with huge blocks or stripping the ball away from players inside to deny what appeared to be certain Cleveland scores.

On the offensive end, he used his huge body as a fulcrum at the top of the key, and made terrific passes inside for scores — including a fab pass to Deuce Miles McBride inside for a key drive.

Hartenstein played like Bill Walton in his prime.

4. A Team Effort

And there was Josh Hart — playing his usual maniacal defense — all over the court for key steals, defense, hustle plays, assured drives, and hitting big 3’s.

RJ Barrett did his thing — especially at the start of the 4th when he was the main offensive option on the second team — hitting a couple of aggressive drives to the hoop. Barrett scored 14 points on 6-17 shooting (2-7 from 3), 7 rebounds and a +10.

Quentin Grimes took turns with Josh Hart guarding Donovan Mitchell — the guy he was rumored to have almost been traded for last summer. Grimes showed why NY was rumored to have not wanted to include him in any deal — he hit key shots, scoring 14 points on efficient 4-9 shooting (3-8 from 3; 3-3 in free throws).

Immanuel Quickley scored 14 points (5-16, 2-6 from 3) and had a +18.

McBride got 4th quarter action to guard Darius Garland — and was a key player in the Knicks taking charge with Defense. He had 2 points and a +11 in 10 minutes. Garland scored 20 points on 8-19 shooting.

5. Toppin Good in Randle’s Absence

And Obi Toppin got the start at power forward with Randle out — just like the last 5 games of last year when Toppin started with Randle out due to injury.

These are different and much better circumstances.

Last year, Toppin excelled in those last 5 games.

Toppin was so-so in the 1st half of this game, but came on in the 3rd quarter with aggressiveness, slam dunks off feeds, and hitting his 3. He finished with 12 pts on 5-7 shooting (2-2 from 3) in 19 minutes.

For Cleveland

Caris LeVert was the 3rd highest scoring Cavalier behind Mitchell and Garland, with 15 points.

Evan Mobley had 14 points on 6-8 shooting, with 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks.

Lee Stevens gave the Knicks a hard time in the 1st half with 2 blocks and 7 rebounds. And Cedi Osman added 14 points off the bench.

The Boxscore

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