The New York Knicks can close out its first-round Eastern Conference playoff series on Wednesday night when it faces the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road in Game 5.
A win would give the Knicks its first playoff series victory in a decade.
New York took a 3-1 series lead on Sunday with a 102-93 win at home. Jalen Brunson scored 29 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished six assists, while RJ Barrett added 26 points.
The Knicks held the Cavaliers to 36-of-77 shooting (46.8 per cent) from the floor, including 6-of-23 from 3-point range, in Sunday’s win. In all three wins, New York has kept Cleveland to fewer than 100 points scored, with the 79 points allowed in a 20-point Game 3 win on Friday marking the lowest output for any team of this postseason.
New York has also held the rebounding advantage in each of its three wins: 51-38 in the 101-97 Game 1 triumph, 45-42 in the Game 3 blowout, and 47-33 on Sunday. The Knicks grabbed 17 offensive boards in Game 4, an improvement over their 12.6-per game average in the regular season.
That number was good enough for third in the NBA.
“Our rebounding today was big,” Obi Toppin said in Sunday’s postgame press conference. “I was a lot more physical today.”
Five of Toppin’s eight rebounds off the bench were on the offensive end, as the third-year forward capitalized on his most minutes played yet in the postseason. He logged 20:01, almost five more than his time played in Game 3.
Toppin’s increased role was in part due to Julius Randle’s struggles. Randle scored just seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the floor and grabbed just two rebounds in 27:18.
Randle (ankle) missed the last five games of the regular season, but the two-time All-Star and Knicks’ leader in both scoring (25.1 points per game) and rebounding (10 per game) during the regular season returned with a double-double in Game 1 and scored 22 points in Game 2.
In New York’s two games at home, he managed just 18 combined points on 6-of-25 shooting and was benched late in Game 4.
“At the end of the day, I just want to win,” Randle told reporters at Tuesday’s media availability. “I’m a competitor. Obviously I would like to play ... but like I said it’s (Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau’s) decision.”
Cleveland’s own All-Star, Donovan Mitchell, dealt with offensive issues in Game 4, as well. He finished with 11 points, his lowest point output since Feb. 2, and the third consecutive game in the series in which Mitchell fell short of his 28.3-point per game average in the regular season.
The Cavaliers’ interior duo of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley combined for 26 points and 11 rebounds in Game 4. Allen averaged 9.8 boards and Mobley 9.0 per game in the regular season.
“We have to grow in a hurry,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said postgame. “Understanding what’s on the line, understanding how in playoff basketball, which was something we talked about during the regular season, you don’t flip switches.
“We’ve been talking about our success of going quickly when we learn from our mistakes. And in these three games we haven’t learned quickly enough and they’ve made us pay.”
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