Home court advantage, Donovan Mitchell give the Cavs a playoff edge
The Cavaliers open their first-round playoff series at home against the New York Knicks Saturday evening. It's the Cavs first playoff appearance in five years and first without LeBron James in 25 years.
It is a best-of-seven series, and Ideastream Public Media's sports commentator Terry Pluto said the NBA Playoffs are different from other sports.
“Granted, in baseball, you have some best-of-seven series like the World Series, but you play the same team a number of times (during a regular season series). For example, the Guardians opened this season with four games in Seattle," Pluto said. "The NFL playoffs are, like any other times, one game. But in the NBA, you don't play the same team three or four times in a row. You might play them twice in a row, that's rare. So, you're now facing the same team over and over again (in the playoffs). And on top of that, you always have at least one day off between games.
Pluto said that rest gives teams time for rest so they are able to play their starters more and scout opposing players.
“Games tend to get a little uglier, a little slower, because ... they’re so prepared.”
The Cavs secured home-court advantage with the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. And Pluto said that matters.
“The team that wins Game 1 goes on to win [the series] three out of four times," Pluto said. "And on top of that, if it goes to seven games, you're really looking at the same thing. That home court, in Game 7, generally you win three out of four times.”
Pluto says when it comes to the coaches’ playoff experience, the Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau and the Cavs’ J.B. Bickerstaff are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
“The Cavs coach is J.B. Bickerstaff, who's coached a number of years in the NBA, but until he came to Cleveland, he was always an interim coach stuck with a bad team. Now, he did get the Houston Rockets to the playoffs in 2016 and they lost in the first round," he said. "The coach of the New York Knicks is a guy named Tom Thibodeau, who is one of these NBA lifers. He's coached three different teams, I may add, to the playoffs. He has coached 61 NBA playoff situations. Now, the reason that matters, I just think sometimes, is he's had so many different playoff game plans that it counts.”
The young Cavs have virtually no playoff experience with the exception of their star, Donovan Mitchell.
“What made the Cavs, when LeBron (James) was here, why did they just drive through the playoffs? One great player. Donovan Mitchell, has a lot of playoff experience. He's played 38 playoff games with Utah. Now, never won a title. But in those 38 games, he's averaged 28 points a game. So, watch Donovan Mitchell," Pluto said.
"But then the rest of these guys: Darius Garland, never been in the playoffs. Evan Mobley, never been in the playoffs. Jared Allen has been in the playoffs one time for one series. And then the other starter, assuming he's healthy, Isaac Okoro, never been in the playoffs. So, they're going to be seeing some new stuff. But sometimes when you have a great player, he can carry those other guys through,” he said.
As for the Knicks, their top players are Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson.
“These guys are maybe not quite Donovan Mitchell, but right in that area, that second group of stars. They beat Cleveland three out of four times in the regular season, the Knicks did. They're a tough match up,” said Pluto.
The No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers (51-31) play No. 5 New York Knicks (47-35) Saturday, April 15 at 6 p.m. at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.