CLEVELAND (AP/WJW) — The young Cleveland Cavaliers have now been to a playoff series, and starting next season, they hope to build off of it.
The New York Knicks downed the Cavs 106-95 in Game 5 on Wednesday night to advance to the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs for the first time since 2013.
The Knicks easily controlled a series that was more one-sided than expected, even after Julius Randle aggravated his left ankle injury and missed the second half.
New York won the opener at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, overpowered the Cavs twice at noisy Madison Square Garden and then returned to Cleveland to finish the job. The fifth-seeded Knicks will meet the Miami-Milwaukee winner next.
Jalen Brunson was the consistent ingredient throughout the series for the Knicks, who signed the stocky guard as a free agent last summer before their attempt to acquire Donovan Mitchell in a trade from Utah fell apart and he landed in Cleveland.
Mitchell scored 28 and Darius Garland 21 for the Cavs, who won 51 games during the regular season but whose inexperience showed throughout their first playoff series in five years. The Cavs weren’t ready.
(See hopeful moments from before Game 5 below)
A bigger issue, though, seemed to be Cleveland’s toughness. The Cavs got pushed around and outrebounded in all four losses, including 48-30 in the clincher.
Following the game, coach J.B. Bickerstaff told the media he was well aware of his team’s shortcomings but still remained hopeful.
“These guys had a phenomenal regular season, each of them grew in their different way, those guys should be proud,” he said. “This organization is being talked about as a promising organization again. A ton of things ahead in the future. As much as it hurts, these are the things you go through that make you a better basketball player, losses like these make you aware of the areas you need to improve in.”
Cleveland hoped to recapture some of its 2016 magic and overcome a 3-1 deficit like LeBron James and the Cavs did in the NBA Finals to shock Golden State. But Brunson, RJ Barrett and the rest of the Knicks had other plans.
They closed out the Cavs in the second half without Randle.
The All-Star forward left late in the second quarter after aggravating a sprained left ankle and didn’t return. Obi Toppin started in his place and scored 12 points in the third quarter as the Knicks opened an 18-point lead.
New York never let Cleveland get closer than six in the fourth, much to the delight of several hundred Knicks fans who celebrated behind their bench.
New York’s depth was also a huge factor in the series. Every time coach Tom Thibodeau turned to a reserve, they responded.
That wasn’t the case for the Cavs and Bickerstaff, whose bench was a problem all season and was further exposed when the games were more meaningful.