After losing two games in a row at Madison Square Garden, the pressure was on for the Cleveland Cavaliers. While at one point they were the favorite in this first-round series against the New York Knicks, the Cavaliers have looked lost. Cleveland big man Jarrett Allen admitted to the media that New York’s physicality and raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden sometimes rattled the Cavaliers.
“We know we’re a great team when our back is against the wall,” said Allen. “We just have to play Cavalier basketball and focus on winning one game at a time. We know we’re capable of doing that. We just have to do it three times in a row and just get back to how we are as a team. I think we got away from that a little bit in this series, and I think we were a little rattled. But as long as we calm down and do our thing, I think we’ll be good.”
Allen being transparent on how things were going on the court in New York City at least gives proper context to how bad Cleveland looked on the floor. It also helps paint a picture of how the Cavaliers were starting down the barrel of elimination. They failed to appear in either contest at Madison Square Garden and were now facing the consequences of their actions or, instead, the lack thereof.
Typically, there would be some anxiety for a team facing elimination like Cleveland. It’s understandable, since, you know, everything they had worked so hard for was moments away from crumbling down. Instead, it was business as usual at Cleveland Clinic Courts before Game 5. Sure, the Cavaliers acknowledged that they hadn’t played their best basketball until now. But, everyone firmly believed in trusting the process, leaving everything on the floor, and letting their game speak for itself.
For Cleveland, a good place to start would be applying what secured them their lone series win. Allen told Right Down Euclid that matching New York’s intensity on the court and finding opportunities to score in transition worked best in Game 2. Meanwhile, Darius Garland expressed similar sentiments to Right Down Euclid but added that there needed to be an emphasis on maintaining defensive pressure on the Knicks. The Cavaliers had their backs against the wall, primarily due to their lack of effort, but a fire was still burning among the smoldering embers.
“I mean, if you need any more motivation than this, then I don’t think you’re playing the right sport,” said Donovan Mitchell to Right Down Euclid. “If this elimination doesn’t fire you up, protecting home court on your own floor, then I don’t know, what else could get you going?
“We’re not going out that way. That’s the mindset. I haven’t had to stress that to these guys. We all know what’s, what’s at stake here.”
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Unfortunately, like the entirety of this series against New York, Cleveland said all the right things but couldn’t back it up on the floor. Like all of their losses in this series, the Knicks continuously ratcheted up the pressure on the Cavaliers and Cleveland failed to match it. The Cavaliers did play with a heightened sense of urgency when things entered the frame. But, it felt like a case of too little, too late. One of the biggest plays came from Garland ripping a pull-up jumper without hesitation, cutting New York’s lead to only 6 points. It was the closest the Cavaliers got to the Knicks all game long, who never relented the lead.
For the Cavaliers, this was their last gasp to try and meet New York at the summit when they had no other option and now their season is over. At the moment, it must be beyond frustrating for the Cavaliers to see their season end this way. After trading for a superstar like Donovan Mitchell and putting together the best season without LeBron James since the 1997-98 season, it’s sobering as well. Cleveland wanted to come into this postseason and prove they belonged as part of the Eastern Conference’s future powerhouses. Instead, they’re going home much earlier than expected and are left going forward with more questions than answers.
There’s a lot that went wrong for Cleveland in this series and when the time is right, Right Down Euclid will do a complete autopsy on why the Cavaliers failed to get out of the first round. There also will be a full diagnosis of what Cleveland needs to do this offseason to ensure that this doesn’t happen to them again this time next year. The Cavaliers only have two years left on Mitchell’s contract before he could enter free agency. Time is precious and Cleveland’s front office now needs to expedite the process to maximize the roster around Mitchell.
The thing is, many expected that conversation to come later in the postseason, not right now. Cleveland could not bottle up any of the magic from their lone Game 2 win and apply it to the rest of this series. Unfortunately, that’s the harsh reality of sports and now the Cavaliers will have to suffer the sting of this loss all summer. It always feels a bit tried but true for Cleveland sports, but this year, it especially feels applicable:
There’s always next year.
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 [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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