After shooting an atrocious six-of-25 from the field over the first two games of the New York Knicks’ first round match-up with the Cleveland Cavaliers, RJ Barrett finally broke out of his slump in Game 3 at the Madison Square Garden.
Barrett scored 19 points on eight-of-12 shooting, highlighted by a strong first quarter performance where he scored 10 of New York’s 17 points.
The opening period closed with the game tied at 17, but the rest of the Knicks then picked up from where Barrett left off as they began to gradually pull away from Cleveland.
New York slowly gained momentum over the second quarter and eventually closed the half with an 18-7 run that gave them a 13-point lead heading into halftime. It was Barrett who eventually capped off their run, throwing down a transition dunk off a steal by Julius Randle right before the period ended.
The Knicks controlled the game from that point on and their advantage never fell below nine points for the rest of the evening. They wound up taking a commanding 99-79 win that gave them a 2-1 lead in this first round series.
Aside from Barrett, starting guard Jalen Brunson also had a standout performance with 21 points on 10-of-18 field goal shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Barrett and Brunson helped New York survive an off-night from the two-time NBA All-Star Randle who finished with only 11 points on three-of-15 shooting.
Josh Hart and Immanuel Quickley had strong performances as well in their usual reserve roles, scoring 13 and 11 points, respectively.
However, the biggest factor behind the Knicks’ win, in what has become typical fashion for this group, was their excellent team defense. They limited the Cavaliers to only 38.8% field goal shooting, including seven-of-33 from the three-point line.
Cleveland’s Darius Garland had a particularly poor shooting night, hitting only four-of-21 shots. Garland ended the game with only 10 points, two rebounds, three assists, and four steals after putting up 32 points, three rebounds, and seven assists in Game 2.
Game 4 will also be played at Madison Square Garden and it will be a crucial one for the direction of this series. Another New York win will give them a 3-1 edge and move them within one win of their first second round appearance since 2013.
The Cavaliers, after losing the first game of this best-of-seven at home, still have to win at least one game on the Knicks’ home floor if they want to advance. Game 4 will be the perfect opportunity for them to swing this series as they can head back home to Cleveland with a 2-2 tie if they can pull off a win.
What will be crucial is the pace of the game as the Cavaliers will have to speed things up if they want to beat the Knicks. A slow game plays into the hands of New York and this is exactly what has happened so far in this series.