The New York Knicks have become the Cleveland Cavaliers kryptonite

Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks. (Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
Jalen Brunson, New York Knicks. (Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports) /

For a long time, the American Airlines Arena (now called Kaseya Center) in Miami and Smoothie King Center in New Orleans gave the Cleveland Cavaliers problems. In both venues, the Cavs had lengthy losing streaks with no end in sight.

The Cavaliers appeared to have slayed their demons in Miami and New Orleans, at least for now, but Madison Square Garden in New York is becoming the new “House of Horrors” for them. Furthermore, the Knicks have become the Cavaliers kryptonite.

The Knicks definitely have had the Cavaliers number recently.

In New York’s 92-81 win against Cleveland at MSG on Dec. 4, Jalen Brunson was the leading scorer with 23 points. Then, in their 105-103 victory over the Cavs on Jan. 24, Brunson scored only 14 points, but it was Julius Randle who led the way for the Knicks with 36 points. Thanks to a 99-79 loss in Game 3 and a 102-93 loss in Game 4 of the first round series between the two, the Cavaliers have lost four consecutive games at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.” The Cavs scored 89 points per game at the Garden. Whereas, they scored 111 ppg in regular season road games everywhere else.

RJ Barrett came alive scoring 19 points in Game 3 and 26 points in Game 4 for the Knicks. In Game 3, Brunson was one point behind Donovan Mitchell for the game’s overall leading scorer as Mitchell had 22 and Brunson had 21. In Game 4, Brunson was the leading scorer with 29 points while Darius Garland had 23 points. Brunson and Barrett combined for 40 points in Game 3 and then exploded for 55 points in Game 4.

Madison Square Garden is in the heart of New York City, which on its own is an intimidating environment. It’s called “the City that Never Sleeps” in part for its restless energy. There’s always something going on, whether it’s people fighting on Wall Street, opening night of a big Broadway musical that everyone is clambering to see, an activity in Central Park, or visiting the Statue of Liberty. New York might as well be its own planet. Knicks fans carry the energy from the city into Madison Square Garden which only amplifies the pressure opponents face.

The Knicks haven’t had a lot of playoff success recently. They haven’t won a championship since 1973 and they haven’t made it past the first round since 2013 where they defeated the Boston Celtics in six games (the Knicks went on to lose to the Indiana Pacers in six games in the second round). Their fans are desperate to see some type of success. So, when the Knicks show a glimpse of something special, you better believe their fans are going to get behind it.

If the Knicks are able to cut a deficit from 20 points down to 10 points, then MSG is going to start shaking because the fans will have hope that they can come all the way back to win. The crowd noise at Madison Square Garden certainly shook the Cavaliers in the regular season and postseason meetings as they went 0-4 at MSG in ‘22-’23.

Just about every time a star player is available, whether that’s via free agency or the draft, fans and media members are always mentioning “The Garden” as a destination. It was no different when there were questions about what was going to happen with Donovan “Spida” Mitchell. For a long period of time, it seemed like a surefire thing that “Spida” was going to be playing under the bright lights of Broadway. Instead, the Jazz traded the All-Star guard to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Mitchell led the Cavaliers from a team that finished the ’21-’22 season with a record of 44-38 and lost back-to-back games in the NBA Play-In Tournament to a 51-31 record, climbing the ladder to the No.4 seed. Despite not being included in the same conversation as the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, or Philadelphia 76ers, the Cavaliers three biggest rivals, they were still a Top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Interestingly, the Cavs swept the regular season series against the Knicks in ’21-’22 without Mitchell, winning both games in New York. On Nov. 7, in a bizarre game that the Cavs won 126-109, Ricky Rubio notably went off for 37 points and Collin Sexton suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee. Then, on April 2, the Cavs went into MSG and defeated the Knicks 119-101.

The foundation for a potential rivalry between the Knicks and Cavaliers is being laid down. With the rivalries against the Celtics and 76ers already established, the Knicks would be the Cavs third rival from the Atlantic Division. But in order for the rivalry to really develop, the Cavaliers need to show that they can go into Madison Square Garden and beat the Knicks. Thus far, they haven’t shown that they can do that. If the Cavs continue to lose in Madison Square Garden, it will take the title of the Cavs “House of Horrors” away from the Kaseya Center in Miami and Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

If my intuition is correct, the Knicks and Cavaliers will meet three times next season. In 2020-21, the Knicks and Cavs met three times and two of those games were at Madison Square Garden. So, two of the three matchups should be in Cleveland next season because of schedule rotations which theoretically should favor the Cavaliers.

In their five-game series, the Knicks exposed some major weaknesses for the Cavaliers. The Knicks frontcourt completely out muscled the Cavaliers frontcourt as it seemed like they were grabbing every rebound.

In Game 5, Mitchell Robinson grabbed 18 rebounds which was the most in the game, while Evan Mobley had nine; something also to keep in mind was Robinson grabbing 11 offensive boards. The Knicks got balanced scoring throughout their roster in Game 5 as well as Randle before getting injured prior to halftime had 13, Robinson had 13, Brunson had 23, Barrett had 21, Toppin had 12, and Quickley had 19. The Cavaliers didn’t get that because other than Garland, Mitchell, and LeVert to some degree, having solid performances, nobody else really showed up in what was a do-or-die game.

Once RJ Barrett found his groove in Game 3, he got on a roll. The Cavs didn’t have anyone to really oppose him or the rest of the supporting cast to knock down open shots and make life easier for Garland and Mitchell. The only guys who should remain on the roster going into next season are Garland, Mitchell, Mobley, LeVert, Stevens, and maybe Allen, in my opinion. It’s not likely those are the only guys back, but either way, the Cavs clearly need better shooters operating in space to help their All-Stars.

dark. Next. Where do the Cleveland Cavaliers go from here after losing to the Knicks?

To punch back against the Knicks and the other heavyweights in the Eastern Conference next season, the Cavaliers need to address the weaknesses that New York exposed.