The Knicks were an extremely confident lot heading into yesterday’s match against the Cavaliers. It wasn’t just that they had already won at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. In taking the opener of the first round series and then holding court at the Garden in Games Three and Four, they were in prime position to extend their postseason. After all, they were up three to one, with their supposedly superior opponents close to checking out.
Not that the Cavaliers were ready to give up. All-Star Donovan Mitchell vowed to do better in Game Five following an atrocious showing in the immediate past set-to, and his declaration was promptly echoed by teammates who looked to be buoyed by fans in familiar turf. There was also the institutional knowledge that climbing out of a hole did not have to be viewed as a close-to-impossible endeavor. Needless to say, the wine and gold had famously come back from such a deficit in the 2016 Finals.
Mitchell is no LeBron James, to be sure, but he likewise knew the Knicks, who cracked the playoffs for the first time in a decade, could not be compared to the juggernaut Warriors. As far as he was concerned, he needed to simply be himself. The way things turned out, yesterday, however, he remained unable to summon the consistency that had the Cavaliers finishing their 2022-23 campaign with 51 victories; even as the 28 points he posted was 17 better than his Game Four tally, he took a whopping 26 shots. Little wonder, then, that he wound up with the same minus-eight clip regardless of his improved stat line.
Which is to say Mitchell did not impact the outcome as much as he wanted. Given how the Cavaliers were outhustled for the duration of the series by the determined Knicks, it’s fair to consider if they would still have been eliminated from the postseason had he been much more productive and efficient. As he himself admitted, “They outplayed us. It’s as simple as that. They did their job and we didn’t.” Enough said.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.