JB Bickerstaff the Difference Maker in ‘Close’ Cavs-Knicks Series, Exec Claims

JB Bickerstaff Cleveland Cavaliers

Getty Head coach J. B. Bickerstaff of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

By almost any metric, the upcoming first-round series between the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks will be a close one. The Cavs’ top-rated defense will face off against the league’s fourth-best offense. For all of the Cavs’ length, the Knicks boast a few bigs of their own. The two sides were separated by just 3.5 points on average in their four meetings this season (the Knicks finished 3-1 against Cleveland).

It’s not unlikely that this series comes down to a handful of plays. But that doesn’t mean it will necessarily come down to the players.

According to one exec who spoke with The Athletic, this series could come down to the two men patrolling the sidelines: Cavs skipper JB Bickerstaff and his Knicks equivalent, Tom Thibodeau.

“I have respect for New York,” the exec said. “It’s not that the Knicks can’t win the series — they could. But I like Cleveland. The only reason I’d give New York a little edge at all is the coaching factor. If you’re gonna match up a series and have (J.B.) Bickerstaff versus (Tom) Thibodeau, I’ll take Thibodeau.”

Despite the slight edge given to Gotham’s head coach, the exec still believes the Cavs will prevail.

“But I’ll go with Cleveland. I’m gonna say it’ll be a seven-game series. I think it’s that close. I think that’s one of the most interesting first-round series in the entire league,” the exec explained.

One of the biggest storylines heading into this series revolves around injury concerns to key starters on both sides.

Isaac Okoro and Julius Randle Injury Concerns

The exec who spoke to The Athletic also identified injury concerns to both Julius Randle and Isaac Okoro as wildcard factors for the series.

“I’m assuming (Randle) is good (to play). If he’s not good, then it’s not much of a series, I don’t think. He has to be right,” the exec said.

Randle still hasn’t been cleared for full practice yet after suffering an ankle injury at the tail-end of the regular season.

On the Cavaliers’ side, Okoro has missed several weeks with knee soreness. According to the exec, his absence in the series would absolutely be felt:

“I love their rim protection, with their four/five combination. Both (players) protect the rim. (Third-year Cavs wing Isaac) Okoro (who missed the last six games of the regular season with a back problem) — they’re gonna miss him, because they need that other defender, that real tough, hard-nosed defender.”

The Athletic‘s source isn’t the only one to buy stock in the Cavaliers’ chance of advancing to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

Jalen Rose Picks Cavaliers Over Knicks in First Round

According to player-turned-broadcaster Jalen Rose, there is a reason for optimism in the Knicks’ camp.

“The good news for the Knicks is that they’re in the playoffs,” Rose said on ESPN’s Get Up. “Another great thing for the Knicks and their fans that they’re celebrating being a fifth seed. My namesake Jalen Brunson has brought a stability at the point guard position.”

But Rose went on to highlight two areas of concern for the Knicks.

“But here’s the problem. They’re not gonna have home-court advantage in the first round versus the Cleveland Cavaliers and Donovan Mitchell. I usually like to pick the team in a series that: A, has the best player, Cavs; B, has home-court advantage, Cleveland. So, I don’t wanna be a buzzkill for the New York Knicks, but if they play the Cavs in the first round, I think, Cleveland, this is for you, and they advance.”

The Knicks and Cavaliers hit the hardwood on Saturday for Game One.

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