The New York Knicks are on the verge of advancing to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2013 after their stirring 102-93 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 of their first-round series.
Should the Knicks successfully wrap up the series this week, they will face the winner between top-seed Milwaukee Bucks and arch-rival Miami Heat. The Heat currently lead the series 2-1, with Giannis Antetokounmpo set to return for Game 4 from a back injury.
In the other bracket, the third-seeded Philadelphia 76ers, who swept the No. 6 Brooklyn Nets, await the winner between the No. 2 Boston Celtics and No. 7 Atlanta Hawks. Like the Knicks, the Celtics are up 3-1.
NBA champion-turned-ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins believes the Knicks have what it takes to come out of the East and beat two of the top three teams in the conference that will stand in their way.
“Let me tell you why I feel so confident in the Knicks right now to get a [series] victory against any of those top teams [Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers] in the Eastern Conference,” Perkins said on April 24 episode of The First Take.
Reason No.1: Knicks’ Defense
As the old saying in basketball goes, “Defense wins championships.”
In this age where three-point shooting and high-scoring games have taken over the NBA, the Knicks are trying to reverse that in the playoffs with textbook Thibodeau defense.
“One, when you look at their defensive prowess, I haven’t seen a team like this since probably 2008 Boston Celtics that hang their hats on the physicality aspect, challenge everything that gets the basket,” Perkins said. “Cleveland was one of the top-rated offenses in the league. Donovan Mitchell was one of the top scorers in the game. And the New York Knicks have completely shut that down, holding them under 100 points in three out of the four games.”
The Knicks became the first team this season to hold an opponent under 80 points in their 99-79 Game 3 victory. The Cavaliers’ top-8 offensive rating (115.5) in the regular season is nowhere to be found in the postseason. They have the lowest offensive rating (101.3) among all playoff teams because of the Knicks’ physical and unforgiving defense.
Reason No. 2: Jalen Brunson Is a Top-5 Star in the Playoffs
Two seasons ago, the Knicks bombed out in the first round of the playoffs in five games because Julius Randle and RJ Barrett shrunk on the big stage. This year is a different story with Jalen Brunson around.
“Now, let’s go to the next–superstar,” Perkins said. “Playoff Brunson– a top-five player in this postseason, who actually eliminated Donovan Mitchell last year when he averaged 27, four [assists] and four [rebounds] in the playoffs when he was in Mavs uniform. When I look at playoff Brunson, this brother is different.”
“He may not look like I can, he might not be the sexiest, he might not be chilled enough, and he might not be playing above the rim, but when it comes to getting the job done, he’s right there with the best of them. And I’m talking about Steph Curry, De’Aaron Fox. This postseason when I’m watching [Brunson] not just from a scoring aspect but for controlling the game, taking on the traps, making the right plays, finding Josh Hart late in the fourth quarter for an easy dunk, finding RJ Barrett on the baseline for a drive and the and-one. I’m looking at Jalen Brunson, and I’m saying he’s a top-five player right now. When the postseason arrived, he’s rising to the occasion. He’s the best player in the series. With that being said, and he’s out playing Donovan Mitchell, he could match up with any other superstar in this league.”
Brunson leads both teams in scoring in the series with 24.3 points per game, while also averaging 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals, tied for third in the entire playoffs.