RJ BARRETT. Jalen Brunson. Team DEFENSE. NY 102 Cleveland 93 in Game #4

RJ Barrett Dominated. Powered to the basket for quick, efficient drives all night long, scoring 26 important points. Jalen Brunson commanded — hitting big shot after big shot for 29 points. And Knick team Defense — led by Josh Hart and the Knick bigs — Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein — dominated the inside on both ends. Obi Toppin added to the mix, playing the entire 4th quarter over Julius Randle, still not in rhythm as he recovers from the sprained ankle.

The result: NY dominated the 1st half, taking a 15-pt lead, then withstood a Darius Garland-led Cleveland comeback in the 3rd quarter — wherein the Cavs took a 3-pt lead. NY took back control at the end of the 3rd, and dominated the 4th quarter — imposed their will — for the 102-93 win at an insanely rocking Madison Square Garden on a Sunday afternoon.

The stakes: Massive. NY wins the all-important Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the best of 7 series. They put Cleveland on their heels. Showed they were the dominant team. Cleveland fans on Twitter are already proposing trades for the off season.

Next game in Cleveland, Wednesday night.

“Got Hit Hard, Picked Ourselves Up”

“The energy to start (the 3rd),” said coach Tom Thibodeau about Cleveland coming back in the 3rd. “Our defense wasn’t very good. We were playing slowly but when you’re not getting stops it tends to lead to that. We know there are going to be shifts in games; we got to make sure we get through that. We responded. Got hit hard, picked ourselves up and came back.”

“We knew this game was going to be a challenge because of the quick turnaround,” added Thibs about Toppin playing the entire 4th. “Late game on Friday; turnaround; early start today. Find a way to win. That group (at start of the 4th) got going. You’re making your decision at the 5 or 6 minute mark. We rode that out. Those guys built the lead, and obviously whatever you think gives you the best chance to win that’s what you’re going to do. At the same time you have a number of guys who are sacrificing and putting the team first.”

“Julius Is Our Horse”

“Look Julius is our horse,” continued Thibodeau about Randle. “He’s given us everything that he has. A lot of guys probably wouldn’t be playing. I knew the quick turnaround would affect him more than most players. He was out an extended amount of time. The thing I love about him, he gives you everything he has. He’s done that to come back the way he did to be ready for game 1. Credit to him. And we need him — he’s our horse.”

1. Barrett Leads Knicks to 15-Pt Lead in 2nd

The Knicks showed dominance early, jumping out to an 18-10 lead and leading 30-23 at the end of the 1st quarter. Barrett, Brunson and Hart were doing most of the scoring — Barrett aggressively driving to the bucket for a jumper, drive, and fouled twice for free throws.

The Knicks Defense intensified; the Knick bigs were owning the inside, and Mitchell Robinson got into the scoring with alley oop layups and slams. When Jalen Brunson hit a step-back with with 5 minutes left in the 2nd, NY upped their lead to 15 points.

Mitchell Robinson absolutely dominated the glass on both ends in the 2nd quarter and RJ Barrett hit big buckets at the end of the half.

“Good early activity by Mitchell Robinson on the glass and on offensive glass with rebounds he can’t control,” said NBA analyst Ross Kreines on Twitter. “He plays volley-ball that leads to 2nd chance opportunities for himself, others and can lead to open 3’s. Also, doing a good job going straight up and blocking/altering shots.”

With Quentin Grimes out with the shoulder contusion injury, Miles McBride came off the bench for 5 minutes at the start of the quarter and played well — defending Donovan Mitchell and hitting a big 3 of his own. It showed NY’s depth. Remember, Evan Fournier and Derrick Rose don’t even play.

Cleveland regrouped with Cedi Osman, Donovan Mitchell, and Caris Levert scoring to pull back within 9 at the half — which wasn’t bad considering how much of a bloody nose they had taken from the Knicks.

2. Garland Goes Nuts to Lead Cavs Back in 3rd

And then came the 3rd quarter. Darius Garland went NUTS — penetrating for scores, hitting 3’s, and penetrating and assisting for scores. He single-handedly opened up the Knick defense and led Cleveland back.

Garland scored 11 points in the quarter and had 5 assists, for 10 more points — feeding the likes of Evan Mobley and Jarret Allen down low.

  • Garland fed Allen for a dunk with 6:27 left to give Cleveland a 63-61 lead and take the air out of Madison Square Garden and Knick fans at home.
  • Garland then hit a drive and one for a 66-63 Cleveland lead.
  • When Garland fed LeVert for a 3-pointer with 4:40 left, Cleveland took a 69-66 lead.

Knicks Begin Counter Punch

But the Knicks battled back.

  • RJ Barrett took it to the hole for a foul and 2 made free throws.
  • Hartenstin had a HUGE block on an Issac Okoro shot, then fed Barrett, and
  • RJ Barrett took it length of the court for a phenomenal drive against bodies to regain the lead for NY at 70-69.

  • Isaac Okoro hit a jumper to put Cleveland back on top but
  • Hartenstein had a HUGE block again — this time on Jarrett Allen inside, and
  • Jalen Brunson hit a Big 3 with 6 seconds left in the quarter to give NY a 73-71 lead entering the 4th.

NY had retaken command.

3. Knicks Counter Punch & Command Frenetic 4th

RJ Barrett continued to dominate the game and push the Knicks to a win in the 4th.

  • Barrett’s drive with 9:36 left put NY up 78-75.
  • Barrett’s jumper with 8:56 left put NY up 80-75

  • Brunson then hit a Huge 3..

and then…

Toppin Circle Drive “Put Back”

  • Obi Toppin grabbed an offensive rebound with 6:17 left, dribbled to the corner — not seeing anyone open — dribbled to the left side, then dribbled to top of the key, then drove to the bucket for a score — and NY was up 86-79. A clutch, magnificent ‘circle drive’ that a reporter later said was “technically a put back.”

At this point fans on TV and the broadcast media (former Knicks Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike Breen) were wondering if Julius Randle was coming back in this game.

He didn’t. Randle had been having an off night (3-10 shooting, 0-4 from 3) and Coach Thibs went with the hot hand — Toppin played the entire 4th.

Barrett, Hart, Brunson

  • A Garland jumper pulled Cleveland within 86-81, but
  • Brunson, doubled teamed, fed Barrett who SLICED to the rim for another Clutch Drive to make it 88-81 NY,
  • Josh Hart grabbed a big rebound, then hit a CLUTCH jumper from the free throw line down the other end as MSG Erupted — NY was up 90-81.

  • Cleveland, losing ground, frantically tried to stay in it — Jarrett Allen with an inside hook to make it 90-83.
  • But Josh Hart took it the length of the court for a DUNK and NY was up 92-83
  • Jarrett Allen got another inside bucket and finally Donovan Mitchell hit a jumper to pull Cleveland back within 7 with 2:13 left,
  • Jalen Brunson hit another HUGE 3 with 1:45 left and NY was up 97-87.

At the end — it was more Barrett — fouled on a drive for a free throw, and then, after Garland hit another 3 — Barrett hit a jumper in the lane to give NY a 100-98 lead with 48 seconds left and ice it.

Garland hit yet another 3 from the corner but Josh Hart made free throws, and Levert missed a 3, Robinson grabbed the rebound and Cleveland gave up with 31 seconds left.

4. Robinson & Hartenstein Own Inside

Key to the win was the inside dominance of Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein. Both dominated their counterparts — Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen — and put up a WALL against Cleveland guards who tried to penetrate (besides Garland!).

Hartenstein had the two HUGE blocks in the 3rd quarter — on Isaac Okoro and Jarret Allen.

  • Robinson finished with 12 points on 5-7 shooting (2-3 in free throws), 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
  • Hartenstein had 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in 21 minutes with a +10.

5. Barrett Redemption

It was the second straight Great game for RJ Barrett — getting redemption as so many Knick fans ripped the F out of him on Twitter and pod casts in the last few weeks. And redemption for the trade rumors of last July that had him going to Utah as the key player in the Donovan Mitchell trade — with Utah’s Danny Ainge asking for Barrett and a boat load of other players and #1 picks for Mitchell.

“Super aggressive,” said Thibs about Barrett afterwards. “Downhill. Getting to the line. Attacking the double teams. Getting to the backside. Getting them into some long closeouts, and I think he read those closeouts well.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell was HOUNDED by Hart all night — and scored only 2 points in the 2nd half.

  • Barrett finished with 26 points on 9-18 shooting (although 0-6 from 3 — several of his 3’s rolled in and out; watching the game you swore he hit a few).
  • Mitchell had 11 points on 5-18 shooting (0-4 from 3).

But the series is not over.

The Boxscore


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