Cavaliers face elimination as Knicks are beating them at their own game
In the team's first playoff series in five years, and the first in 25 years without LeBron James, the defensive-minded Cleveland Cavaliers have been beat up and outrebounded by the seemingly stronger New York Knicks.
Cavaliers fans hoped that because the team has one of the NBA's best home records, their home-court advantage would be the difference in the usually close matchup of the fourth and fifth seeds in the first round of the playoffs.
Instead, Cleveland split their home games and lost both games in New York to fall behind 3-1 in the best-of-seven playoff series.
While some criticism of head coach J.B. Bickerstaff is warranted, said Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto, the physical difference between the two teams has been the most obvious reason for the Cavs struggles.
"They were going to be a good defensive team, they were going to get loose balls, long rebounds. And the eye test tells you, if you're kind of a hardcore basketball fan, that's where the series has been being won by New York and lost by Cleveland," said Pluto.
Knicks guard Jalen Brunson has caused a lot of problems for Cleveland with his hot shooting, but Pluto believes the body type of other players is also playing a role.
"When you look at the Cavs big men, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, they are skinny. And the Knicks are just more physical. They throw you around," he said. "When they lost to New York on Sunday, (Allen) played 37 minutes, he had four rebounds. This is a guy that's averaging ten rebounds a game."
Cavs All-Star Donovan Mitchell struggled in Game 4 with just 11 points and six turnovers, following the blowout loss to New York in Game 3.
"He became timid," Pluto said. "In Game 4 in New York, when the Cavs were coming back and he played in the fourth quarter, and in fact the whole game, you know, he scored 11 points, he went to the foul line once."
Pluto said Mitchell needs to be more aggressive and use his strength to get to the free throw line, where Mitchell shoots 80 percent. Seeing the ball go through the net on a foul shot might actually help his overall shooting, Pluto said.
Despite the struggles and being outworked by the Knicks, Pluto said the future is bright for Bickerstaff and the Cavs.
"I think they would be out of their mind to fire J.B. Bickerstaff," Pluto said. "When you talk about a drama-free culture, a team that in the regular season won 51 games and did lead the NBA in defense, with a starting lineup that's 26 years and under, I would tell you 80 percent of the NBA teams, franchises would love to have that future right now."