Heading into Tuesday, the Cleveland Cavaliers face a make-or-break Game Two showdown against the New York Knicks. A 2-0 hole is no joke and few playoff atmospheres match Madison Square Gardens, where the Cavs will be headed for games three and four.
The key to limiting New York’s effectiveness will be to limit its lead playmaker Jalen Brunson. He scorched Cleveland for 27 points in 29 minutes on Saturday; in his last two matches against Cleveland, he’s scored a total of 75 points.
He’s also a free-throw magnet. His free-throw attempts have ballooned in his first year in the Big Apple, going from 2.7 last year with the Mavericks to 5.8 in 2022-23. But if you ask Isaac Okoro, Brunson actively seeks opportunities to draw fouls.
“We feel like we played him well last game,” Okoro said. “I mean, probably get him off the free throw line, not falling for his pump fakes and those antics of trying to draw fouls, be more disciplined.”
Okoro knows what the team needs to do to keep Brunson off the line.
“Just being disciplined,” Okoro said. “Knowing, talking to the refs you know, trying to let them know some of the antics. You know he might do, you know staying down on pump fakes, you know trying to use my size and my length just to try and deter shots and passes.
“Just you know, nodding your head back, falling on the ground when not a lot of physicality’s used on you, just little things to help him get fouls and things get to the free throw line.”
The Cavs will need Okoro to look like his pre-injury self on Tuesday. Without him 100%, the Cavs lack a true perimeter disruptor (all due respect to Evan Mobley) to pester the likes of Brunson.
Donovan Mitchell Shares Candid Assessment of Cavs Opener
Saturday served as Cleveland’s first taste of playoff basketball in five years. But rather than a rousing fireworks show, the game resembled more of a rock fight evidenced in the final score 101-97.
For Cavs star Donovan Mitchell, Saturday night was supposed to go differently.
“It’s a deflating feeling,” Mitchell said about the loss, per Cleveland.com’s Chris Fedor. “But in the same token, there’s no room for that emotion. OK, we gave up 17, but how do we correct it? How do we move on from there? That’s what the playoffs are. We’re going to make mistakes. It’s going to happen. We’re going to give up offensive rebounds.”
But the All-Star also promised the Cavs would come out stronger in Game Two, ready to meet the Knicks’ challenge head-on.
“But there’s more physicality, there’s more intensity that can be had. Just got to clean that up, watch the film and we’ll be better,” Mitchell explained.
Mitchell was terrific against the Knicks, netting 38 points and making eight assists. But his impact extended beyond the box score.
Quentin Grimes Reveals Donovan Mitchell’s Trash Talk
With the game on the line, Knicks guard Quentin Grimes went to the free-throw line to shoot two and ice the game. The first shot clanged around a bit before actually going in, something Mitchell reminded Grimes of when he went to take his next one.
“He was just like he didn’t like the first one because it rattled in a little bit,” Grimes told SNY’s Ian Begley. “So I was like, ‘You will like this next one.’ I made sure I knocked down that, but I think the atmosphere will be even crazier in this second game. … It’s going to be a really fun game.”
The Cavs and Knicks will hit the hardwood Tuesday night in Cleveland.