Friday night’s meltdown could hardly put the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ hopes to rest about a potential first-round matchup against the New York Knicks. Sure, the Cavs were without Jarrett Allen and Isaac Okoro, but the Knicks were without All-Star Julius Randle.
The game lived up to its hype-infused billing for three quarters, until the Cavs’ fourth-quarter demons haunted them; Cleveland scored just 14 points in the final frame, compared to New York’s 25. The Cavs lost by a final tally of 130-116.
Much of the game was a heavyweight fight between Knicks star Jalen Brunson and Cavs All-Star Donovan Mitchell. The duo combined for 90 of the game’s points.
“I’ve seen this for years. I saw the same thing last year,” Mitchell told reporters about Brunson’s night, per the Cavaliers’ official YouTube channel. “He’s just shifty. He can get to his spots, different ways. The biggest thing is he had [nearly] 50, but he had nine assists. That’s the standout.
Mitchell kept coming back to Brunson’s assists as a sign of his unselfish play:
“Fifty is great and it’s a lot of work to put in, but getting everybody else involved that’s what I took away the most.”
The game carried an additional wrinkle: a preview of the likely “Donovan Mitchell Bowl.”
Donovan Mitchell Sounds Off on Past Knicks Rumors
Once upon a time, NBA prognosticators nearly etched Mitchell’s name on the back of a Knicks jersey. All of the ingredients were there: Mitchell is from New York, grew up a Knicks fan, and the Jazz were ready to go in a different direction.
The only kicker? Trade compensation. As negotiations dragged on, the door was opened wide enough for the Cavs to bust through. Collin Sexton, Ochai Agbaji, and the team’s draft capital for the rest of the decade later, and Mitchell was headed for Lake Erie instead of the Hudson River.
With the Knicks and Cavaliers careening toward a first-round playoff matchup, Mitchell couldn’t help but comment on the possibility of playing against his hometown team.
“I think it’s even more important because this is the team we’re probably going to see,” Mitchell said. “Obviously we’re missing people, they’re missing people, but still the same competition, competitiveness. They played well, they did a lot of things well, played together in different ways. We’ll be better.”
“It’s full circle. Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Mitchell continued. “What kid wouldn’t want to grow up and play against his hometown team in the playoffs? … It’s going to be a lot of fun — if that happens.”
If you ask the Cavs, though, it’s not the Knicks who they hope to see in the first round.
Cavaliers Hoping for Nets Matchup in Playoffs
In a recent report from Chris Fedor of cleveland.com, the Cavaliers are apparently keeping their fingers crossed for a playoff matchup against the Nets.
“No one inside the organization would say this publicly — and they shouldn’t. But multiple people I’ve spoken to recently are privately hoping for a Brooklyn matchup,” Fedor reported.
“Brooklyn was 32-20 at the time it dealt Kyrie Irving — a move that preceded Kevin Durant’s departure. While the Nets haven’t completely imploded since those two megadeals, their organizational ceiling has lowered considerably, and they no longer pose the same challenge in a seven-game series. The last time they looked — and consistently played — like a playoff-caliber team was when Irving and Durant were both there. The Nets are 7-11 over the last month-plus without those two superstars. They also have the most inexperienced coach of the potential first-round foes,” Fedor completed.
With only a few games left and the Eastern Conference beginning to look cemented, it’s highly unlikely the Cavs catch up to the Sixers for a potential Nets matchup in the first round.