Donovan Mitchell drops the ball
Cleveland did not get off on the right foot in this game, stumbling into a double-digit deficit midway through the second quarter. But a decent close to the half kept the game within reach and a third-quarter surge put the Cavaliers back in front.
With the game up for grabs, all eyes turned to Donovan Mitchell. He had scored just 39 combined points since his 38-point performance in Game 1. And though Mitchell had been quiet through the first half of Game 4, these are the types of scenarios Cleveland acquired him for. He is their closer.
A string of heroic shots could have tied the series 2-2, but Mitchell went just 1-4 in the fourth quarter, with a costly turnover that helped New York regain a comfortable lead. Mitchell acknowledged in the post-game press conference that he has to be better if Cleveland wants to win.
"It starts with me. I have to be better," said Mitchell. https://t.co/lWNzrctPyk— Evan Dammarell (@AmNotEvan) April 23, 2023
The Knicks took an aggressive approach to defending Mitchell in Game 4. He was trapped and faced double teams at every turn. But rather than calmly making the correct pass, Mitchell pressed to find his own shots at various points. This led directly to 6 turnovers for Mitchell, pushing him to a series-high 16 total turnovers.
It does not help that a few of Mitchell’s attempts in the final quarter rattled in and out. As the saying goes, it’s a make-or-miss league — and this just was not Mitchell’s night.
Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein dominated
New York’s path to victory in this series was largely dependent on Mitchell Robinson being a force in the paint. He has been even more than that, arguably playing above all frontcourt players, even his All-Star teammate Julius Randle.
Robinson has been the ultimate difference-maker for the Knicks. His presence as a defensive anchor is a key reason Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley have struggled to score below the rim. And his activity on the glass might have decided the series.
New York cleaned up 17 offensive rebounds in Game 4 with Robinson leading all players on the glass. He snatched 7 offensive boards himself while Mobley and Allen combined for just 11 overall rebounds. The effort from Allen was inexcusable and marks back-to-back games of underwhelming production. Allen has totaled just 9 rebounds in his last 76 minutes of playing time.
Then, there was Isaiah Hartenstein who was deployed off the bench to deliver 8 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 21 minutes. His activity was everything Cleveland was missing in the frontcourt, making a difference on the margins at every opportunity presented.
A narrow path ahead
Fighting back into this series is not impossible but the Cavaliers have not done themselves any favors by falling behind 3-1.
A return to Cleveland is a reason for encouragement, if there is one. The Cavs were 31-10 at home this season compared to just 21-20 on the road. This is the best environment for them to correct course and get back on track.
But playing on their home floor is not a guaranteed victory, as New York harshly reminded them in Game 1. It is going to take significantly better performances from Mitchell and the frontcourt. And the Cavaliers will have to hope the best versions of Caris LeVert and Darius Garland arrive.
Garland has been a mixed bag in this series. He was fantastic in Game 2, horrific in Game 3 and then nearly the hero of Game 4 behind his 23 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers. The Cavaliers can not afford another slump from Garland with the margin for error at zero.
The same goes for LeVert, who has been encouragingly aggressive throughout the series. Though his shooting has been equally as sporadic, LeVert has scrapped tooth and nail to have a positive impact, leading the Cavaliers in rebounding in Game 4. A more efficient shooting stretch from LeVert is desperately needed.
A rotational adjustment could be in the works for J.B. Bickerstaff. His bench has failed him and the decision to yank Isaac Okoro out of the starting lineup has not paid off. Okoro shot 1-5 from deep in Game 4, but was above and beyond the Cavaliers’ best perimeter defender, as he has been all season.
This series is technically still winnable. But a 3-1 comeback will not be possible unless Mitchell finds his groove, Allen and Mobley reclaim the paint, Garland establishes himself consistently and Bickerstaff finds the correct moves off the bench. That’s a lot of things that need to go right.
Up next: Game 5 of this series is on Wednesday. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.