Josh Hart, Knicks show Cavaliers exactly what they’re missing

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By Webdesk

NEW YORK — You can try to get the ball out of the hands of an elite scorer, show them different covers and attack them on the other side. However, game planning for an all-rounder like Josh Hart is tricky.

“I think what he does at the elite level is he impacts winning,” Cleveland Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff said Sunday morning at Madison Square Garden, shortly before a first-round matinee against the New York Knicks.

Hart has a way of figuring out how to help his team, Bickerstaff said: “Some nights it takes charge, some nights it takes shots.” The Cavaliers need to “understand where he hurts you the most” and act accordingly: put a body on him so he can’t get offensive rebounds; take care of the ball and come back in transition because he always try to push it.

No one can stop a player like Hart from bringing his intangibles to the party, but Bickerstaff wanted his team to “keep him out of the stats” in Game 4.

That didn’t happen. Hart finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals in 39 minutes, and his fingerprints were all over Donovan Mitchell’s 5-for-18 showing. About midway through the fourth quarter, he grabbed a defensive rebound, then went coast to coast finishing over Jarrett Allen. board and found Jalen Brunson open for a 3.

“What can you say about Josh Hart?” That’s what New York coach Tom Thibodeau said after the 102-93 win. “Again, it’s one tough game after another. Big shot, big offensive rebound, great defense. That guy, he’s just a winner.”

Hart, acquired by the Knicks in February in a trade with Portland, is not the reason why New York has a 3-1 lead in the series. But imagine if it was the Cavs who acted for him.

In Cleveland’s three losses, it had an offensive rating of 102.1, 84.0 and, on Sunday, 103.3 points per 100 possessions, meaning it was significantly less efficient than any team in this streak. the regular season. After a Game 3 loss in which the Cavs became the first team to score fewer than 80 points in a game this season, Bickerstaff emphasized the importance of ball movement and reaching the second side. Far too often in Game 4, Cleveland stagnated again.

Mitchell blamed himself, and he deserves his share: he pounded the ball, started the attack too slowly and forced difficult shots. While he can do off-balance, contested pull-ups and stepback 3s in isolation, a healthy shot diet can’t have too much of it.

The four-time All-Star needs to play more like Darius Garland did. As the Cavs went on an 18–7 run to take the lead early in the third quarter, Garland forced the defense to get moving, make quick decisions, and push his team to a faster halfcourt pace. But neither Garland nor Mitchell operate in an ideal offensive environment. Cleveland plays much of every game with both Allen and Evan Mobley on the ground, compromising space, and the Knicks aren’t too concerned about the wings coming up.

Hart, who did a great job navigating screens and harassing Mitchell one-on-one, called restricting Mitchell “a full team effort”. He can defend aggressively because he knows help is behind him and the Cavs don’t have shooters all over the field.

“We want to show him bodies, close lanes and force him to take difficult 2s and stepback 3s and stuff like that,” Hart said.

Likewise, Cleveland doesn’t want Brunson, who finished with 29 points on 11-for-22 shooting, to feel comfortable. It has stunned him and given him a lot of defensive attention. The Knicks saw this coming and they took advantage of it better than the Cavs. This, Thibodeau said, is the result of “everyone connecting together.”

“Everyone has to get to the right place and then you have to make the right game and trust the game, you read trust,” said Thibodeau. “Don’t fight it. Get off it, then move it to the back and play from there. And that’s what winning basketball is.”

New York deserves credit for committing to do just that. It’s easier to play winning basketball, though, with lineups cohesive at both ends. Hart and RJ Barrett, who had 26 points on 9-for-18 shooting, are dangerous offensive closeouts. They shot a combined 1 to 10 from 3-point range, but were clearly net positive.

Cleveland has two great backcourt playmakers and two young All-Defense types up front, but as it piled up regular season victories, the question of who would start and close on the wing in the playoffs loomed. On Sunday, two days after Isaac Okoro was drawn less than three minutes into Game 3, Bickerstaff removed him from the starting lineup. Caris LeVert took his place and Cedi Osman got some points, but Okoro ended up playing 17 minutes as he is the Cavs’ best defensive option against Brunson

Okoro had a few successful drives to the basket, and he even made a sweeping hook over Obi Toppin early in the second quarter. At his best, he gives some of what Hart does. He rebounds extremely well for a 6-foot-5 wing, is dangerous in transition, and on the right night will knock down a pair of open 3s. The Knicks just aren’t watching him, though, and at this stage of his career, he’s not what you’d call a forward. The Cavs don’t have a reliable two-way wing on the roster.

Going into elimination, Cleveland was able to move the ball more consistently, play with pace, and get Mitchell Robinson to leave the paint in Game 5. It could also prevent him from being dominated on the boards. However, regardless of what happens in the rest of this series, the Knicks have a structural advantage: Since they added Hart, they’ve got the type of roster balance that allows a team to become more than the sum of its parts.

“He fit in perfectly with the group,” said Thibodeau.

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