CLEVELAND – In the end, it was dominance. A warped series.
The Knicks had the best point guard. The better center. The deeper the better. The best coach. The greater the determination. Much better rebound.
They wiped the floor with the Cavaliers in the first round, ending the series Wednesday with a 106-95 blowout in Game 5 despite Julius Randle missing the second half with a sprained ankle.
The Knicks, who started the round as weak as the fifth seed, captured the franchise’s first postseason series in a decade. It also represented just the second series win since 2000, when Thibodeau was an assistant coach under Jeff Van Gundy and shouted instructions with much fuller hair. Next up is the Heat and Bucks winner with at least three days off before Game 1.
And since the eighth-seeded Heat are currently 3-1 against the No. 1 Bucks. 1, the Knicks can see a realistic path to the conference finals through South Beach.
The five games against Cleveland proved they are more than capable. They won behind Jalen Brunson, who scored 23 points on Wednesday and continued to outscore Donovan Mitchell. They won it behind Mitchell Robinson, who dominated the paint and kept possessions alive with a ridiculous 11 offensive rebounds. They won behind the efficiency of RJ Barrett, who scored 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting for his third straight performance. They won behind an unexpected outburst from Obi Toppin, who filled in for the injured Randle and finished with 12 points in 22 minutes. They won behind a gritty 46 minutes from Josh Hart, who again stifled Mitchell while grabbing 12 rebounds.
The Knicks also won because the Cavaliers stunk, down at every starting position while being bullied in the paint by New York’s physicality. The series revealed Cleveland’s frontcourt of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley — considered among the most daunting during the regular season — as Charmin’ soft. Allen and Mobley were responsible for allowing 17 offensive rebounds for the Knicks, who owned that category all series.
Meanwhile, Randle’s health is very much up in the air for the conference semifinals. The All-Star turned his left ankle late in the second quarter Wednesday, lying on the field in pain as coaches, teammates and even coach Tom Thibodeau gravitated toward Randle with concern.
The 28-year-old, who watched the fourth quarter in street clothes, was injured after contesting a shot and landing awkwardly on Cavs guard Caris LeVert. He sprained the same ankle on March 29 and missed the final five games of the regular season.
Before his latest injury, Randle delivered a rejuvenated performance with 13 points and six assists in 16 minutes. Three nights before, he struggled mightily in Game 4 and was benched for the entire fourth quarter.
Thibodeau hoped two days off between games would give Randle a needed refresher. Asked if he expected Randle to return in Game 5, the coach simply said, “Yes.”
It started well, but it ended with Randle limping to the locker room. He needed help to get off the field, but stumbled onto the bench on his own.
Then he came out of the locker room again to see his team advance to the next round.
The Knicks were again without their shooting guard, Quentin Grimes, who missed his second straight game with a bruised shoulder.
Grimes suffered the injury during Game 3, though it remains unclear how or exactly when it occurred.
“It’s a weird thing,” Thibodeau said. “It happened during the first half, you don’t know exactly when it happened. You go through a lot of screens, you get hit. So somewhere along the line, he got hit.”