Knicks silence Cavaliers at MSG to take 2-1 series lead

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Jalen Brunson scored 21 points, RJ Barrett broke out of a slump with 19 and the New York Knicks held the Cleveland Cavaliers to the lowest point total in the NBA this season, rolling to a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series with a 99-79 victory Friday night.

The Knicks emphatically bounced back from a loss in Game 2 and moved halfway to their first series victory since 2013. They led by 27 points in the fourth quarter, when a sold-out crowd of 19,812 at Madison Square Garden was so loud there was little chance of hearing much of what the public address announcer was saying — especially as seldom-used veteran Derrick Rose was checking into the game to a huge ovation.

Josh Hart added 13 points for the fifth-seeded Knicks, who host Game 4 on Sunday. They became the first team to allow fewer than 80 points during the regular season or postseason.

Donovan Mitchell scored 22 points for the Cavs, who never gave themselves a chance with their most inept offensive performance of the season. They hadn’t been held below 80 points all season, with their worst effort 81 points, also at the Knicks on Dec. 4.

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New York Knicks’ Jalen Brunson celebrates after scoring against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second half of Game 3 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Friday, April 21, 2023, in New York. The Knicks won 99-79.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Darius Garland, who scored 32 points in Game 2, managed just 10 on 4-for-21 shooting. Caris LeVert, moved into the starting lineup after scoring 24 in that 107-90 victory, missed all six shots in the first half before coming on late for 17 points.

Barrett was just 6 for 25 in the first two games, but his shot was falling, and he aggressively drove to the basket to get himself going. Plus, some of the Cavs’ 21 turnovers sent Barrett and the Knicks off to easy transition baskets.

It was just the second time the playoffs came to Madison Square Garden in the last 10 years and fans loved it, a game that looked more like something played by the beloved 1990s Knicks, who had the Garden rocking deep in many springs with their rugged brand of basketball.

Bodies crashed to the floor or into each other, and once in a while the ball went into the basket.

Jalen Brunson layup

New York Knicks’ Jalen Brunson (11) drives past Cleveland Cavaliers’ Cedi Osman during the first half of Game 3 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Friday, April 21, 2023, in New York.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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The Cavs had 13 baskets and 12 turnovers at halftime, when the Knicks’ 4-for-19 shooting from behind the arc looked practically hot compared to the Cavs’ 2-for-19 effort.

The teams combined to miss 20 of 23 3-pointers in a first quarter that ended tied at 17, and Garland (0 for 8) and Julius Randle (0 for 5) couldn’t hit from anywhere.

The Knicks ran off six straight points in the second to open a 38-27 lead when Brunson stole the ball from Mitchell and dunked it, then got the final five of the half on a 3-pointer by Immanuel Quickley and another dunk off a Mitchell turnover, this one by Barrett, to make it 45-32.

The offenses got going in the third quarter, with both teams shooting above 50% and LeVert scoring 11 points. The Cavs got within single digits before the Knicks closed the period on an 8-0 run to take a 72-55 lead.

It was a rough first playoff game back home for Mitchell, who was born in Elmsford, New York, not far from where the Knicks practice, and thought he might be a Knick last summer before Utah instead traded him to Cleveland.

He said he cut off communication with some friends who were Knicks fans and left some group chats so there would be no distractions. Usually warmly received in the arena, the fans even turned on the All-Star guard, loudly chanting “airball! airball!” when he was well off on a 3-pointer in the second quarter.

But after handing out a career-high 13 assists in Game 2, the Cavs needed him to keep shooting Friday with nobody else hitting. He wasn’t much either, going 2 for 8 behind the arc, where Cleveland finished 7 for 33 (21%).

Obi Toppin and Jalen Brunson

Obi Toppin #1 and Jalen Brunson #11 of the New York Knicks high five 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.  (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

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Cavaliers: Garland left the game for a time in the fourth quarter after hurting his ankle when he stepped on a photographer behind the basket. … The Cavs matched their worst first half in a playoff game, also scoring 32 in an 81-76 loss to the Knicks in Game 3 of 1996 playoffs. … Isaac Okoro was benched for LeVert after shooting 1 for 7 in the two games in Cleveland.

Knicks: Randle and Quickley each scored 11 points. … Backup big man Jericho Sims was out with a sore right shoulder. He hasn’t played in the series.

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