NEW YORK – Back when the NBA playoffs were always part of the springtime schedule at Madison Square Garden, this is what they looked like.
Tough to score. Even a little tough to watch.
And on Friday night, the fans loved it.
Jalen Brunson scored 21 points, RJ Barrett broke out of a slump with 19 and the New York Knicks held the Cleveland Cavaliers to the lowest point total in the NBA this season, rolling to a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series with a 99-79 victory.
The Knicks emphatically bounced back from a loss in Game 2 and moved halfway to their first series victory since 2013. They led by 27 points in the fourth quarter, when a sold-out crowd of 19,812 was so loud there was little chance of hearing much of what the public address announcer was saying — especially as seldom-used veteran Derrick Rose was checking into the game to a huge ovation.
“It was what I expected for sure,” Knicks All-Star Julius Randle said. “A lot of, lot of energy and we were able to feed off it, so I love it.”
Josh Hart added 13 points for the fifth-seeded Knicks, who host Game 4 on Sunday. They became the first team to allow fewer than 80 points during the regular season or postseason.
Donovan Mitchell scored 22 points for the Cavaliers, who never gave themselves a chance with their most inept offensive performance of the season, rattled perhaps by the Knicks on the court and the fans surrounding it.
“Not being able to make shots definitely hurts as well, but it’s one of those things where we’ll be good,” Mitchell said. “Like, kind of breathe and relax and calm down.”
Darius Garland, who scored 32 points in Game 2, managed just 10 on 4-for-21 shooting. Caris LeVert, moved into the starting lineup after scoring 24 in that 107-90 victory, missed all six shots in the first half before coming on late for 17 points.
Barrett was 6 for 25 in the first two games but his shot was falling and he aggressively drove to the basket to get himself going. Plus, some of the Cavs' 21 turnovers sent Barrett and the Knicks off to easy transition baskets.
It was just the second time the playoffs came to Madison Square Garden in the last 10 years and it looked like something played by the beloved 1990s Knicks, who had the Garden rocking deep in many springs with their rugged brand of basketball.
“As a basketball player you kind of grow up thinking about moments like these,” Barrett said. “It was electric in there and happy we get to come back Sunday.”
Bodies crashed to the floor or into each other, and once in a while the ball went into the basket.
The Cavs had 13 baskets and 12 turnovers at halftime, when the Knicks' 4-for-19 shooting from behind the arc looked practically hot compared to the Cavs' 2-for-19 effort.
The teams combined to miss 20 of 23 3-pointers in a first quarter that ended tied at 17, and Garland (0 for 8) and Randle (0 for 5) couldn't hit from anywhere. The Cavs' worst previous effort this season was also against the Knicks, 81 points on Dec. 4.
“It was nasty, like a lot of games have been with them this season,” LeVert said.
The Knicks ran off six straight points in the second to open a 38-27 lead when Brunson stole the ball from Mitchell and dunked it, then got the final five of the half on a 3-pointer by Immanuel Quickley and another dunk off a Mitchell turnover, this one by Barrett, to make it 45-32.
The offenses got going in the third quarter, with both teams shooting above 50% and LeVert scoring 11 points. The Cavs got within single digits before the Knicks closed the period on an 8-0 run to take a 72-55 lead.
It was a rough first playoff game back home for Mitchell, who was born in Elmsford, New York, not far from where the Knicks practice, and thought he might be a Knick last summer before Utah instead traded him to Cleveland.
He said he cut off communication with some friends who were Knicks fans and left some group chats so there would be no distractions. Usually warmly received in the arena, the fans even turned on the All-Star guard, loudly chanting “airball! airball!” when he was well off on a 3-pointer in the second quarter.
Cavaliers: Garland left the game for a time in the fourth quarter after hurting his ankle when he stepped on a photographer behind the basket. ... The Cavs matched their worst first half in a playoff game, also scoring 32 in an 81-76 loss to the Knicks in Game 3 of 1996 playoffs. ... Isaac Okoro was benched for LeVert after shooting 1 for 7 in the two games in Cleveland.
Knicks: Randle and Quickley each scored 11 points. ... Backup big man Jericho Sims was out with a sore right shoulder. He hasn't played in the series.
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