Manhattan meltdown: Cleveland Cavaliers lose crucial Game 3 to New York Knicks 99-79

It’s now do or die heading into Game 4 in Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon for Cleveland against the Knicks.
Cleveland Hart Osman MSG
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 21: Josh Hart #3 of the New York Knicks celebrates a three-point basket during Round One Game Three of the 2023 NBA Playoffs against the Cleveland Cavaliers on April 21, 2023, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Well, that was certainly a basketball game. After thoroughly dominating the New York Knicks in Game 2, the Cleveland Cavaliers carried a ton of positive momentum heading to Manhattan. Sure, the Cavaliers finished the season with a losing record outside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse this season, and Cleveland also had never won at Madison Square Garden this year, either. Nevertheless, it felt like winds of fortune were blowing in the Cavaliers’ sails, and they were full-steam ahead toward building a solid lead over the Knicks.

Well, considering Cleveland started the game connecting on 9.1% of their 11 three-point attempts and only hit 33.3% of their shots overall, that momentum came to a screeching halt. Sure, New York didn’t fare much better – hitting 16.7 of their three-pointers and 26.1% of their overall field goal attempts. But, anything positive that the Cavaliers were trying to carry with them from Game 2 to Game 3 wasn’t applicable, and the game became ugly in spectacular fashion.

Instead of this game feeling like their lone win, it felt more like the series-opening loss for Cleveland in Game 3. Fueled by the overwhelming energy from their home crowd, the Knicks punched the Cavaliers squarely in the mouth once the second quarter began. New York never relented, outscoring Cleveland 82-62 over the final three frames, and found new ways to make the Cavaliers uncomfortable since Cleveland held the Knicks to only 11 offensive rebounds and 14 second-chance points. Instead, New York forced the Cavaliers to cough up 20 turnovers and was able to score 28 points off of them.

“We played into their hands,” said head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

“We shot like crap,” said Donovan Mitchell.

Cleveland’s performance in this game could be put into proper context when the final buzzer sounded. Altogether, this was the worst scoring effort from the Cavaliers this year, surpassing a woeful 81 points scored against these same Knicks in December. It was their fourth-worst in terms of three-point percentage. Their third-worst game overall in field-goal rate. The second-worst in terms of turnovers. The list goes on, but regardless, this was Cleveland’s worst loss this season, including the frustrating home loss to Golden State’s reserves.

Cleveland Garland MSG
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 21: Darius Garland #10 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dribbles the ball during Round One Game Three of the 2023 NBA Playoffs against the New York Knicks on April 21, 2023 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Are you a Cavs fan, or an Ohio sports fan? If so, visit betJACK: Ohio’s Sportsbook today! New users that sign up and place their first bet within 24 hours are eligible for 200% bet protection on their first bet, up to $1,000!

“I think we shot ourselves in the foot on that one,” said Mitchell regarding the turnovers. “We came out a little too hyped. I think it was one of the things where we were playing too fast and trying to do it all in one play. You’ll take the aggression at the end of the day and we can calm that down.

“… We’ll fix that. I had six myself and as the leader, I can’t have that. That’s on me. The score was 17-17 after the first and, you know, it was an ugly game and the playoffs are an extra possession game. Whether that’s offensive rebounds or turnovers, that’s what hurt us. When you’re not making shots, those extra possessions matter even more.”

Mitchell and Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff noted that there was palpable anxiety for Cleveland heading into this road matchup in an incredibly hostile environment. Nerves or not, for the Cavaliers, this game felt out of character for them from wire to wire. Mitchell was spot on in saying he was careless with the basketball – his six turnovers allowed the Knicks to get accessible shot opportunities. Sure, Mitchell led Cleveland in scoring with 22 points and tried to keep the Cavaliers in the game. But Mitchell’s scoring effort felt like screaming into the void when he’s careless with the ball.

Meanwhile, Mitchell’s co-star Darius Garland had arguably one of the worst games of his young career. Garland opened the game 0-8 from the floor and finished the night 4-21, scoring 10 points and turning the ball over three times. Considering Garland had his coming out party in Game 2, where he posted 32 points and seven assists, his play in Game 3 was somewhat disappointing.

With Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen carrying so much defensively, all while dealing with the physicality of Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson, the Cavaliers need Garland and Mitchell working in harmony on offense. If either falters, Cleveland will have to try and win an uglier game. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, the Knicks are more than comfortable with winning while also playing ugly – just look at how Game 1 went if you need a refresher.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s matinee tilt for the fourth chapter in this series, there are several things Cleveland needs to address. Curiously, Bickerstaff adjusted and benched starting small forward Isaac Okoro in favor of sixth man Caris LeVert. On paper, the move made sense considering the Cavaliers could’ve used the offensive edge LeVert provides with the rest of the starting lineup. You’d be mistaken if you believed it was a “lineup of death” for opponents in execution. If anything, it killed Cleveland’s overall flow on offense and likely played a part in New York building so much momentum heading toward halftime.

That said, Bickerstaff needs to course correct and put Okoro back into the starting lineup. What made the Cavaliers so effective in their lone win of the series was how they rattled Jalen Brunson early and never relented pressure. The more pressure on Brunson, the better since he’s the most dynamic offensive threat on the Knicks. Okoro is Cleveland’s best perimeter defender and is the ideal player to keep rattling Brunson.

That’s all you need Okoro to do for the remainder of this series. Since if LeVert is back as the sixth man for the team, he can find easier shot opportunities, build offensive momentum against New York’s reserves, and allow Mitchell and Garland to find more comfortable footing to open the game. Again, the Cavaliers will only go as far as Mitchell and Garland can carry them on offense. Getting them easier chances to find comfort in a hostile environment will be paramount to success.

If Cleveland does that and again unlocks LeVert all while keeping a healthy rotation of Cedi Osman and Danny Green with Okoro, there is a recipe for success. It helped them win Game 2 of this series and should be what the Cavaliers turn to in order to win Sunday’s game. Cleveland needs to tie up this series before returning to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Wednesday for Game 5. If they don’t, their season could be over much sooner than expected.

Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.

Did you enjoy this story from Right Down Euclid? Then it would be best if you become a paid supporter. Every dollar goes right back into making fully independent Cleveland sports coverage possible. Also, be sure to check out our new merchandise!


Thanks for reading!

Let’s stay in touch. The Right Down Euclid newsletter is a recap of the week’s top stories.

Sign up for free now. You can unsubscribe any time.

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top