CLEVELAND (AP) — Jalen Brunson scored 23 points, RJ Barrett added 21 and the New York Knicks downed the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-95 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since 2013.
The Knicks easily controlled a series that was more one-sided than expected, even after Julius Randle aggravated his left ankle injury and missed the second half.
New York won the opener at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, overpowered the Cavs twice at noisy Madison Square Garden, and then returned to Cleveland to finish the job. The fifth-seeded Knicks will meet the Miami-Milwaukee winner next.
Brunson was the consistent ingredient throughout the series for the Knicks, who signed the stocky guard as a free agent last summer before their attempt to acquire Donovan Mitchell in a trade from Utah fell apart and he landed in Cleveland.
Brunson averaged 24 points in the series and led New York in scoring all four wins while outplaying Mitchell for the second straight postseason. Last year, Brunson was with Dallas when he got the best of Mitchell.
Mitchell scored 28 and Darius Garland 21 for the Cavs, who won 51 games during the regular season but whose inexperience showed throughout their first playoff series in five years. The Cavs weren’t ready.
A bigger issue, though, seemed to be Cleveland’s toughness. The Cavs got pushed around and outrebounded in all four losses, including 48-30 in the clincher.
New York center Mitchell Robinson finished with`18 rebounds — 11 offensive — in Game 5 and the 7-footer didn’t shy away from calling out the Cavs for being soft after Game 3, saying they appeared to be shaken. Robinson joins Shaquille O’Neal as the last two players in NBA history to have 10+ offensive rebounds, 2+ steals, and 3+ blocks in a playoff game.
Last two players with
in a playoff game. pic.twitter.com/R0HxY2zt9d
— StatMuse (@statmuse) April 27, 2023
Cleveland hoped to recapture some of its 2016 magic and overcome a 3-1 deficit like LeBron James and the Cavs did in the NBA Finals to shock Golden State. But Brunson, Barrett, and the rest of the Knicks had other plans.
They closed out the Cavs in the second half without Randle.
The All-Star forward left late in the second quarter after aggravating a sprained left ankle and didn’t return. Obi Toppin started in his place and scored 12 points in the third quarter as the Knicks opened an 18-point lead.
New York never let Cleveland get closer than six in the fourth, much to the delight of several hundred Knicks fans who celebrated behind their bench.
Randle was moving as well as he had in the series before going down.
After trying to block Caris LeVert’s jumper, he landed awkwardly and stayed on the floor for a few minutes while being checked. Randle was helped to his feet but defiantly walked off the floor and to the locker room for treatment.
Turns out, the Knicks didn’t need him.
New York’s depth was also a huge factor in the series. Every time coach Tom Thibodeau turned to a reserve, they responded. That wasn’t the case for the Cavs and coach J.B. Bickerstaff, whose bench was a problem all season and was further exposed when the games were more meaningful.
The Knicks were also without starting shooting guard Quentin Grimes, who missed his second straight game with a bruised right shoulder. He’s been out since absorbing a hit in the first half of Game 3.
One sequence in the first half underscored Cleveland’s frustration.
Isolated on the wing against Brunson, Isaac Okoro refused to bite on a move and kept New York’s guard in front of him and nearly came up with a steal before fumbling it out of bounds with two seconds left on the 24-second shot clock.
New York inbounded and Immanuel Quickley hit a 3-pointer to put the Knicks ahead by 12.
New York improved to 13-2 in the postseason against Cleveland, winning all four series (1978, 1995, 1996, and 2023).