NBA Playoffs: 3 keys to victory for the Cavaliers’ series against the Knicks

Evan Mobley Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Evan Mobley Cleveland Cavaliers (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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1. Cavaliers: Be locked in defensively right away

The Cavaliers won many of their games by flipping the switch late and upping the pressure on defense. In the playoffs, they have to be locked in right away. Having a top defense in the league is not just a nice statistic; it wins you games.

Allen and Mobley patrolling the paint and having everyone’s back are the backbone of that defense, but Okoro is also a crucial part of it. He is their best perimeter defender, and even though he received plenty of valid criticism about his offensive game, his defense is vital to the Cavaliers’ success. Okoro will guard Brunson, which worked in the Cavaliers’ favor in the three games Okoro played against the Knicks. He held Brunson to an 18.2 field goal percentage, but the true story is about the number of shots Brunson couldn’t even attempt with Okoro swarming him.

Another key matchup—perhaps even the key matchup—given that Randle is healthy will be Mobley vs. Randle. It will be quite the test for both parties because Mobley may be much younger and less experienced, but he is a top defender and is growing with every game. Besides, you cannot forget that there are two of them. Whoever gets past Mobley still has to deal with Allen, and since the Knicks don’t really have a stretch five to draw Allen out of the paint, this will be a huge advantage.

That alone is not enough to form the league’s top defense, though. Going into the season, pairing Mitchell and Garland defensively was one of the main concerns surrounding the Cavaliers. Neither one was ever known for being a good defender, but they managed to do well enough. They fight over screens, hustle, and disrupt passing lanes, and that does not just include the starting backcourt. LeVert alone racked up 17 steals over his last 10 games.

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The Knicks are still a low-assist team, but one of the keys to their turnaround this season is that they started to move the ball more. If the Cavaliers can limit that again, it should give them an offensive edge, and every little advantage could decide this series. Both teams are pretty evenly matched, but the Cavaliers certainly haven’t reached their ceiling yet, and this series will be full of surprises.