Dribbles: Finally, Effort Pays Off, as Cavs Show ‘Our True Grit’ to Stifle Knicks

Random dribbles following the Cavaliers’ thriller of a 95-89 road win over the Knicks on Wednesday.Jalen Brunson drives to the basket vs. the Cavs

1. Well, maybe the Cavs can petition the NBA to let them play all home games in New York. After all, they’re 2-0 there and 0-3 in the Cleveland.

2. I’m pretty sure I went on the air earlier in the day and said there’s no way the short-handed Cavs were winning, “and that’s OK.” For the record, a win is also OK.

3. The story of this one is nothing more than all the Cavs’ effort through the first four games finally paying off. They have been hustling, scrapping, clawing, trying to find a way without Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen … and falling short. Not on this night.

4. They can thank Donovan Mitchell (who else?) for setting the tone early. He came out firing and extra-aggressive, scoring Cleveland’s first 13 points. Mitchell seemed to be telling his teammates, “I’m not going down without a fight. Care to join?”

5. It’s true that Mitchell started to slow down in the third and fourth quarters. For a big chunk of them, he had zero second-half points. He looked physically spent. But to the surprise of no one, he started dropping shots again when it mattered most.

6. Mitchell finished with 30 points, six rebounds and four assists. He also went an underrated 6-of-6 on free throws in a tight game.

7. Remember, these two teams met the night before, in Cleveland, and it wasn’t even close in the second half. It’s easy to think the Knicks may have entered the night feeling a little overconfident. Especially with how they dominated the Cavs in last season’s playoffs.

8. But this time, the Cavs played with an edge, with some true defensive intensity and tried to match the Knicks physically. Maybe they were tired of hearing everyone predict that there was no way they could win.

9. Guilty as charged.

10. Mitchell to Bally Sports Ohio: “To play as a group the way we did, it shows the mental fortitude we have. We’ve gotta keep pushing.”

11. Meanwhile, coach J.B. Bickerstaff was quick to credit the Cavs’ decision to really bend their knees and shuffle their feet. “I didn’t think that we were defending the way we were capable to start this year,” he told reporters in New York. 

12. So the coaching staff challenged the players before the game. “That’s what I’m proud about,” Bickerstaff said. “We showed our true grit and who we are as a defensive basketball team.”

13. So yes, the Cavs have now won at Brooklyn and Madison Square Garden. This one was even more impressive than the first.

14. Bickerstaff on Mitchell’s big baskets at the end: “That’s who No. 45 is. He’s a guy who can create at the end of games. He’s got the courage to take big shots and make big shots.”

15. On this night, the same could be said of Caris LeVert — who nailed a big 3-pointer right before halftime, as well as in the game’s waning moments. LeVert wound up with 19 important points off the bench after a one-game absence. He also had six rebounds and five assists, with the Cavs outscoring the Knicks by a 10 crucial points with LeVert on the floor.

16. Bickerstaff on LeVert: “You need a guy who has the ability to beat his man. That’s what Caris does. He can beat his man, he can make shots, he can create shots for others. He’s a pest on the defensive end of the floor, too.”

17. Evan Mobley was again quiet in the first half, but unlike Tuesday, became much more aggressive and productive in the final two quarters. By the end of the night, he had 14 points, eight rebounds, five assists, two steals and two massive blocks.

18. The Cavs usually get destroyed on the boards against the Knicks, but it wasn’t nearly as bad this time. New York still won that battle, 50-46. But thanks to the efforts of Mobley and, yes, Tristan Thompson, the Cavs won the war.

19. Thompson finished with six points and five rebounds in just 13 minutes, and I’ve been all for the decision to get him back in games. So many of his contributions aren’t seen when reading blog posts or box scores. He is just a flat-out disruptor for the opposition.

20. Georges Niang started for the first time as a member of the Cavs and finished with five points and a team-high 10 rebounds. He did some nice things defensively, too. Everyone did.

21. Jalen Brunson led the Knicks (2-3) with 24 points. Immanuel Quickley added 18 and Donte DiVincenzo scored 16, each in reserve.

22. So what’s next after beating New York? How about the first game in the inaugural In-Season Tournament? That takes place Friday on the road against the Pacers. Love it or hate it (or like me, don’t understand it), it has arrived. The Pacers will break out a slick court and probably hoping to forget all about their 51-point loss to the Celtics on Wednesday.

23. But the Pacers don’t really like to defend. What better time for the Cavs to show them how it’s done than when the regular season turns into a tournament?

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