Jalen Brunson leads Knicks past Cavs in potential playoff preview
Published in Basketball
CLEVELAND — If this was a preview of a first-round playoff matchup, expect a mountain of points and a thrilling battle of guards.
Jalen Brunson won his matchup against Donovan Mitchell and the Knicks outlasted the Cavaliers on Friday night, 130-116, running away in the fourth quarter in their first game without injured Julius Randle.
Brunson dropped a career-high 48 points and Mitchell scored 42. The back and forth resembled a duel, with exciting finishes and little regard for perimeter defense. In a microcosm of the evening, Mitchell soared for a dunk with about five minutes left that cut Cleveland’s deficit to single digits. And Brunson immediately responded with a 3-pointer to bury the home team at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
New York’s point guard had the final laugh as Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau finally unlocked a defense to thwart Mitchell in the fourth quarter. Brunson finished with nine assists and shot 18 for 32, including 7 of 12 from beyond the arc.
Mitchell shot 16 for 23.
The victory moved the No. 5 Knicks (45-33) within three games of the No. 4 Cavs (48-30), but, more importantly, maintained their 2 1/2-game edge over the No. 6 Nets (42-35).
Randle, who is out for the remainder of the regular season (and perhaps some of the playoffs), was replaced in the lineup by Obi Toppin, who struggled enough defensively to only log 19 minutes (including zero in the fourth quarter).
The Knicks outscored the Cavs in the final period, 25-14.
The new lineup also brought some hostility. TV cameras caught a tense exchange between Toppin and RJ Barrett during a timeout in the third quarter. It appeared Barrett was angered by something Toppin said and stood up to go at his teammate.
Thibodeau stood in between and kept them separated, while assistant Johnnie Bryant physically removed Barrett from the beef. It was an uncharacteristic moment of anger from Barrett, who has just eight techs in his career. The players appeared to peace it up after the timeout.
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