After a disappointing start to the 2023 NBA Playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed to respond in a significant way going into a must-win Game 2 on Tuesday night.
In their Game 1 loss, the Cavaliers were beaten up on the glass 51-38, and their bench was outscored 32-14 by the New York Knicks. While Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell had a masterful Game 1 performance, Darius Garland passed up a few open looks in the second half, and Evan Mobley and Caris LeVert struggled to score.
Cleveland had two days between Games 1 and 2 to shore up what went wrong on Saturday night.
Throughout the first quarter, both teams battled back and forth, but the Cavaliers outscored the Knicks by 17 points in the second quarter, which was a deficit New York could not overcome. From there they blew the game open to lead by as many as 29 points in the fourth quarter, and in the end won 107-90 to tie the series.
Let’s examine a few key takeaways from Cleveland’s emphatic Game 2 victory.
No. 1: Cavaliers defense and rebounding were improved from Game 1
I will preface this by saying the Cavaliers’ defense on Saturday night was not bad by any means. They were able to hold the Knicks to just 42 percent shooting and 27.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Cleveland’s defense also had nine steals in Game 1 and forced 16 total turnovers. However, the rebounding, especially down the stretch, was one of the glaring concerns entering Game 2.
The Cavaliers did an even better job on the defensive end last night, especially on Jalen Brunson, the top scorer for New York on Saturday.
Cleveland threw multiple defenders at Brunson all night and was physical with the Knicks’ point guard. Overall, Brunson shot just 5-of-17, including just 1-for-8 from three-point range. Eight of Brunson’s 20 points came in the first quarter, as the Cavaliers limited his effectiveness all night.
Julius Randle led all Knicks with 22 points on 8-of-20 shooting, but the Cavaliers hounded him all night on defense.
Cleveland held New York to just 36.7 percent shooting for the game, including 24 percent from beyond the arc. They also forced the Knicks into 18 turnovers and recorded 10 steals.
Cleveland’s defensive numbers would have been better if not for allowing 30 points on 50 percent shooting in the 4th quarter. Through three quarters, Cleveland held New York to just 60 points on 33 percent shooting.
As for the Cavaliers’ rebounding issue, they outrebounded the Knicks 43-36, led by Mobley with 13 and Jarrett Allen with 10 rebounds.
The actual problem in Game 1, when it came to rebounding, was no other Cavalier aside from their two big men stepped up. Last night Cedi Osman had six, while Danny Green and LeVert had four.
I expect Mobley and Allen to gather up the majority of Cleveland’s rebounds, but when the guards and forwards chip in, it helps the Cavaliers tremendously.