Nick FriedelESPN staff writer4 minutes to read
cleveland – in The New York Knicks are heading into the Eastern Conference semi-finals for the first time in 10 years after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers 106-95 on Wednesday night in Game 5 of their first-round series.
As has been the case throughout the series, Knicks guard Jalen Bronson led the way for a hungry young team that had been dominating the game all night. Bronson scored 23 points to go with four assists and four rebounds and repeatedly made big plays when the Knicks needed one.
After shooting 6-for-25 from the field in Games 1 and 2 in Cleveland, Knicks swingman RJ Barrett had another big performance, scoring 21 points to provide a needed lift for Tom Thibodeau’s team.
As the series went on, it became clear that the Knicks were not only a deeper team, but a group that played with the kind of defensive superiority that defined some of the best teams in Thibodeau’s career.
Playing Knicks swingman Josh Hart in his first playoff series, he made a huge difference off the bench all past week and a half, making a string of game-winning plays that helped close out games. Hart recorded 12 more rebounds in Game 5 and was a major cog in the Knicks’ ability to slow Donovan Mitchell and the Cavs offense.
Mitchell Robinson, who scored 13 points and 18 rebounds in Game 5, was a powerhouse down front against the Cavs. The Knicks beat Cleveland 48-30 on Wednesday and were the most physical team of all time in the series. Knicks forward Obi Tobin scored 12 points and had several key stretches in the series. Knicks guard Emmanuel Quickley added 17 points, rebounding after a very slow offensive start to the series.
The Knicks were able to finish the series without All-Star forward Julius Randle making Wednesday’s victory even more impressive. Randle injured his left ankle late in the second quarter and did not return. After going 21-for-65 for the series coming into Game 5, Randle seemed to find his rhythm Wednesday night after a slow start. He finished with 13 points, six assists and four rebounds in the 16 minutes prior to his injury.
Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Randle will be re-evaluated Thursday. Randle was in the Knicks locker room icing his ankle after the win.
Being able to finish this streak may be more important to the Knicks, given the uncertainty surrounding Randle’s ankle.
The Knicks will play the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Miami Heat series. Heat star Jimmy Butler led Miami to a 3-1 lead heading into Game 5 Wednesday night against the top-seeded Bucks, but the Knicks won’t have to play again until next week if the Bucks can get back behind the star forward. Giannis Antikonmo.
The Heat-Knicks series will provide plenty of storylines, reviving a long-running rivalry. It would also make for an interesting matchup between Thibodeau and Butler. Butler played for Thibodeau when he was coach of both the Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves.
No matter how the next series develops, the Knicks will enjoy playing at least two more games in front of a bustling environment inside Madison Square Garden. The two losing streaks made a huge difference in Games 3 and 4 against the Cavs as the Knicks fed energy into the building and managed to pull away from a young Cavs team that never looked ready for the playoffs.
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