The last time the Cavaliers visited the Garden, the Knicks started a long winning streak. Maybe Tuesday’s win will have that same effect.
In the least, it snapped a four-game losing streak that was threatening to ruin all the good vibes from a strong first half to the season. Instead of having to answer questions about how they can repair their broken defense without injured center Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks were able to exhale after one of their best performances in recent weeks.
Julius Randle started hot and never really cooled off, the bench produced in both halves and the maligned defense was solid, as the Knicks beat the Cavaliers, 105-103, for the second time in three tries.
Randle was the star, scoring 36 points, hitting a career-high-tying eight 3-pointers and grabbing 13 rebounds along with four assists. But he had plenty of help. The bench produced 27 points, and Isaiah Hartenstein was a key factor with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks. RJ Barrett added 16 points and Jalen Brunson had 14. Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen each scored 24 for the Cavaliers.
After trailing by eight in the third quarter, the Knicks (26-23) led by as many as 11 in the fourth, before Mitchell got hot. Evan Mobley’s basket pulled Cleveland even with 2:29 to go. But Randle sank a 3-pointer on the other end and the Knicks never trailed again. The Cavaliers did have a chance in the final seconds, but Mitchell’s driving layup was blocked by Hartenstein and Mobley missed at the buzzer.
The Knicks seemed in control midway through the second quarter, ahead by 11 and their offense humming. The Cavaliers managed just nine points over the first 5:33 of the second period. But then a few turnovers directly translated to Cleveland dunks, and the momentum turned. The Cavaliers outscored the Knicks, 15-6, over the final 4:27 of the half and trailed by only two at the break.
It was similar to the Knicks’ two most recent losses in that they shot the ball well and had a good rhythm on that end of the floor, but didn’t have much to show for it. Their interior defense was soft, allowing 26 points in the paint, and seven turnovers led to Tom Thibodeau’s team taking five fewer shots.
Randle led the way, hitting five of his first six 3-point attempts and scoring 22 points at the break. All four reserves — Hartenstein, Miles McBride, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley — scored, helping the Knicks build that cushion that mostly was eroded by halftime by the starters.
The Knicks came out for the third quarter stuck in mud. Their first five possessions produced three turnovers and two rushing 3-point attempts. Their first points of the quarter didn’t come until 3:19 had elapsed, and the Cavaliers were up five. Thibodeau used two timeouts over the first seven minutes of the quarter. The Knicks trailed by eight by the time he used the second one.
Whatever he said, it worked. The Knicks reeled off 19 of the game’s next 25 points, turning that eight-point deficit into a five-point lead. Randle scored eight of the points, including a deep, straight-on 3-pointer in the waning seconds.