Given professional basketball’s recent tilt toward smaller lineups, the Cleveland Cavaliers‘ decision to play two big men together for over 1400 minutes this season is unorthodox.
But then again, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen are unorthodox players. Now in their second season together, the tandem anchor the NBA‘s top-rated regular-season defense. Allen is a year removed from an All-Star honor and Mobley is a burgeoning perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Mobley (6’11) and Allen (6’9) will be a handful for the New York Knicks, who aren’t short of length in Mitchell Robinson (7’0) and Obi Toppin (6’9). When Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News suggested the Knicks might have a tough time matching Mobley and Allen, Robinson quickly clapped back.
Bondy: When you play a team like that, that has two legitimate big men, how much different is-
Robinson: We got two of ’em too. Really we got three.
Bondy: I mean starters.
Robinson: What you mean? We good. We straight too! What you talking about?
Robinson isn’t the only Knicks player throwing jabs at the Cavaliers.
Josh Hart Takes Shot at Donovan Mitchell Ahead of Knicks-Cavs
One of the key matchups in the Knicks-Cavs series will be how wings like Josh Hart stack up against Cleveland’s electric backcourt headlined by Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell.
“Nothing,” Hart told The Athletic about what makes guarding Mitchell difficult, before laughing. “He’s the easiest one to guard. Put that in there, right before the playoffs.”
Mitchell torched the Knicks for 42 points when the two teams met last in late March. The playoff preview gave Hart an excellent chance to see the former Louisville Cardinal’s well-rounded game up close.
“He’s a really good scorer at all three levels,” Hart continued. “He’s efficient at all three levels. A lot of times, you want guys to try to force them to do something that they’re not comfortable with. And he’s someone who’s obviously athletic, is able to finish above the rim, finish through contact. He’s strong, has an explosive first step. He has that, but then he’s shooting 38 percent from 3 on, like, nine to 10 3s a game.”
For the Cavaliers, the toughest matchup might be defending Jalen Brunson, who grilled Cleveland in his own right in late March.
Donovan Mitchell Praises Jalen Brunson
On March 31, the Knicks sent the Cavaliers a stinging 130-116 defeat in which Brunson scored a game-high 48 points.
“I’ve seen this for years. I saw the same thing last year,” Mitchell told reporters about Brunson’s high-scoring affair, 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.
But Mitchell was more impressed by Brunson’s unselfish play; the former Villanova Wildcat finished with nine assists.
“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.”
Many eyes will be on the Knicks-Cavaliers playoff matchup, and for good reason. Storylines abound: the botched Donovan Mitchell trade for the Knicks; Jalen Brunson’s ascension to the limelight after ditching Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks; Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, and Isaac Okoro’s first taste at playoff basketball are just a few of the myriad narratives that will come out of this series.
The two sides take the court Saturday evening.