The Knicks Spent A Quarter In Hell
9:34 AM EDT on April 19, 2023
The second quarter of Tuesday night's Game 2 between the Knicks and Cavaliers started innocuously enough. Cleveland led 25-22 at the start, and the teams took turns missing tough shots against frenetic defenses for a minute and a half.
With around 10:30 on the clock, dribbling up the floor in transition and perhaps paying a little too much attention to the defender behind him, New York's Julius Randle lost the ball in the middle of Cleveland's painted area for the Knicks' first turnover of the quarter. Nothing much came out of it: The Cavs ran the other way, Darius Garland missed a high arcing floater over New York's Mitchell Robinson, and the Knicks got the rebound. It didn't feel all that much like a Portent of Doom.
A couple possessions later, with the Cavs' lead now down to one thanks to a pair of R.J. Barrett free throws, Randle tried a jump-pass in the middle of the lane and sent the ball to nobody in particular, out of bounds. Once again it didn't hurt the Knicks too bad: Josh Hart committed a foul at the far end to break up a Jarrett Allen dunk attempt, and Allen made one of two free throws. But something seemed to be rattling loose in the Knicks. On their very next possession, Isaiah Hartenstein and Immanuel Quickley got their signals mixed up: Hartenstein thought Quickley was cutting along the baseline, and Quickley thought he was faking a baseline cut and darting back out to the corner, and Hartenstein's pass sailed out of bounds for another turnover, New York's third in about 90 seconds.
A minute and a half later, New York now trailing by six, Randle bullied his way to Cleveland's basket but couldn't score over a fantastic shot-contest by Allen; Randle and Harteinstein fumbled the offensive rebound and it popped free to Cleveland's Caris LeVert. Officially this was scored as a turnover by Randle—his third of the period, the Knicks' fourth—even though he never really had the ball in any meaningful way after the missed shot; on the other hand, between he and Hartenstein, a Knick probably should have had it. LeVert missed a three-pointer in transition, the Cavs got their own offensive rebound, Garland sank a 26-footer, and all of a sudden the Knicks were down by nine and their two best players, Randle and Jalen Brunson, were grabbing various hurt body parts.
Much of this was just the Cavaliers playing extremely well, on their own floor, with a certain amount of desperation lest they lose two home games to start their first playoff series in years. The Cavs are very tall where it counts, and fast, and were the best defensive team in the NBA this season. They are very good at making it very hard to do stuff. But also the Knicks just kept helping them.
With around 6:20 left in the quarter, Brunson kinda dithered on the ball for long indecisive seconds on the right side of the floor, then telegraphed and tried an utterly doomed and foolish one-handed bounce pass through a forest of legs in the middle of the lane, to a not even remotely open Hartenstein; yet another turnover. Four seconds later, Garland used a lovely little crossover to shake himself free in transition and splashed another deep three to put Cleveland up 12. It was getting ugly.
To their credit(?) the Knicks now mustered almost two minutes of playing time before their next turnover, and shaved two points off Cleveland's lead. Then Brunson, driving baseline against a tangled-up Allen and LeVert, kinda lost his balance and tried yet another insanely terrible one-handed bounce pass to a too-far-away Hartenstein; Cleveland's Donovan Mitchell got a hand to it, sprinted off the other way, and made a layup. The Knicks had now turned the ball over six times in the period, and had scored eight points.
They weren't done yet! With around 2:45 left in the period, the Knicks officially lapsed into Keystone Kops mode: Hartenstein went up and stuffed a two-handed Garland dunk attempt at point-blank range, but the refs whistled him for a foul, wrongly and terribly, and then also called Hart for a technical foul; while everybody's heads were whipping around in shock at this, Randle accidentally smacked his teammate Brunson in the eye. Immediately after Garland finished making all three of the free throws, Randle, trying to inbound against a Cavs full-court press, threw the ball out of bounds. The crowd roared. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau made a face like somebody had just climbed onto his dinner table and farted onto his bowl of soup. Watching on TV and not rooting for anybody in particular so much as for a good, close, hard-fought spectacle, I made an involuntary half-moan-half-retch sound and looked around the room, aimlessly, like someone might be available to help. The Cavs inbounded the ball; LeVert made yet another three-pointer. The margin ballooned to 15.
With a little over 1:30 left to play in the half and the score unchanged after the LeVert triple, New York's Quentin Grimes drove along the left baseline, picked up his dribble, and fired a pass off of the back off Hart's head. This was New York's eighth turnover of the quarter, but definitely No. 1 in any ranking of comedic value. Garland made a layup. The Cavs led by 17.
Blessedly, the Knicks were just about out of time to shoot any more of their own limbs off before the end of the half. But they did sneak another one in there! With 40 or so seconds left, still trailing by 17, Hart drove along the right baseline and threw a hard bounce pass at Robinson's feet in the middle of the lane. Robinson bobbled it to Cleveland's Jarrett Allen—New York's ninth turnover of the quarter. Did the Cavaliers immediately shoot and make yet another three-pointer? Reader, they did, to go up by 20.
Had the Knicks mysteriously disappeared from the arena at halftime, I could hardly have blamed them. Nobody on earth needed to watch or participate in the second half to know how Game 2 was going to end. It is not exactly incisive analysis to observe that a basketball team will tend to have a hard time when it commits nine turnovers in a quarter against six made shots; still, I simply must recommend that the Knicks never do it again. For my sake, if not for their own.