The Cleveland Cavaliers absolutely demolished the New York Knicks on Tuesday night.
After three days of every sports show discussing the preeminence of the New York Knicks, of every basketball analyst and reporter who picked the Knicks to win the series strutting around like a peacock, the Cavs came into Game 2 and laid the wood to the Knicks.
Darius Garland had the first half of his life, Donovan Mitchell became prime Steve Nash spraying the basketball around the court, and Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff finally dusted off Danny Green to great success. Caris LeVert was great, Evan Mobley was much improved, and so on down the line. Nearly every Cavs player was rolling.
The Cleveland Cavaliers won Game 2 in commanding fashion
Even more so than the offensive fireworks, the Cavaliers set the tone defensively. They were physical with the Knicks right from the jump, erasing all of the statements about how the Knicks were bigger, stronger, better than they were. The Knicks didn’t have many easy buckets on a night when they scored just 90 points on 36.7 percent shooting from the field.
That level of physicality did not let up when J.B. Bickerstaff began pulling his starters, the game well out of reach with just three minutes to go. Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks’ coach, should have responded in kind, giving his core players some extra rest and protecting them from injury in a game that was clearly decided.
Thibodeau did not do that, however, leaving Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle in the game despite a 20-plus point margin. Bickerstaff responded by leaving starting center Jarrett Allen in the game to keep the defense cohesive down the stretch.
With 2.5 minutes to go, and the Cavaliers up 23 points, Cedi Osman lofted a lazy pass that was stolen by Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein. Julius Randle sprinted down the court and got the pass from Hartenstein to go up for a fastbreak dunk.
Unfortunately for Randle, Jarrett Allen was running the court as well, and he went up to try and block Randle’s shot. He missed, as Randle went up quickly, and the two bigs collided in midair. Randle landed hard and appeared to have injured his lower back or tailbone from the fall:
Jarrett Allen was called for a flagrant foul, penalty 1 on the play. Randle got up and was subbed out of the game; so were Brunson and Allen, as both teams went to all-bench units for the rest of the game. Time to move on?
Not so fast, as Randle and the Knicks didn’t let things go after the game. When asked about the foul, Randle pointed the finger at Allen and even left a thinly-veiled threat for him:
Basketball media is going to make a mountain out of any molehills they can find, and the drama of a hard foul is one of their favorites. What is worse is that the language being used is subtly (or not so subtly) framing Allen in a negative light from the jump.
For example, Bleacher Report described the situation as “Randle went up for a breakaway dunk…when Allen tackled him in midair…” (emphasis mine). Allen didn’t tackle Randle; two large humans moving at high speeds collided in midair. Allen was correctly called for a foul; on top of that, he was called for a flagrant foul, penalty one; whether or not it was warranted, it was assessed.
That should be the end of it, but Randle and company are continuing to make a big deal of it, as are Knicks fans. The problem with Randle’s narrative? Whatever injury he sustained is not Allen’s fault; it’s Randle’s own fault, and it’s his coach’s fault.
If Julius Randle is injured, it’s not Jarrett Allen’s fault
That foul by Allen was not anything different than what happened throughout the game. These two teams played a very physical game, and there were multiple hard fouls throughout. Donovan Mitchell fouled a Knicks player on a fastbreak to put them on the line earlier in the game and was praised for it. That was the atmosphere of the game on Tuesday night.
The reason Randle has a problem with it is because of when it occurred. It was late in a game that was already decided; Allen should have “taken it easy” and just let Randle score. But if the game was out of reach to the point Allen should have stopped playing defense, Julius Randle should never have been in the game!
The Cavs pulled their starters except for Allen, but Thibodeau left three of his in, including his two stars, and all five players on the court were key rotation players. If Thibodeau truly wanted to protect his players he would have pulled Randle and Brunson. After the game, he told reporters that he was going to sub out Rande but that the power forward wanted to stay in the game to “find rhythm”:
Tom Thibodeau is the coach. He makes the decision when a player subs in or out; he needs to take responsibility here, not pawn it off on Randle. It’s his fault that Randle was in a position to get injured.
When the ball was tipped on the play in question, Randle responded immediately by sprinting down the floor at full speed. That’s the right competitive play; even with the game out of reach, Randle wanted to score and help his team. Yet he and Knicks fans are not perturbed that Allen did the same thing.
Tim Thibodeau should have protected his star player. Julius Randle should stop pointing fingers. Jarrett Allen? He should keep playing hard, no matter what narrative is spun out of the foul. Everyone hopes that Randle is back healthy in Game 3; if he does sustain an injury, the fault lies not with Allen, but with Randle and Thibodeau.