24/05/2024

Josh Hart’s celebration with Donovan Mitchell’s chain reinforces a concerning message to the Cavs -- Jimmy Watkins

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Josh Hart’s celebration with Donovan Mitchell’s chain reinforces a concerning message to the Cavs -- Jimmy Watkins

The New York Knicks own Cleveland, or at least they think they do after winning on the road without Jalen Brunson. Come to think of it, what's the difference?

The New York Knicks own Cleveland, or at least they think they do after winning on the road without Jalen Brunson. Come to think of it, what's the difference?

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Josh Hart iced the game then snatched the chain. Or at least, he pretended to snatch it. But at a certain point, the difference is negligible. And at a certain point, the Cavs have to solve their problem with Hart and the Knicks.

Nobody is — or at least, nobody should — be pressing panic after the Cavs’ 107-98 loss to short-handed New York on Sunday. They played without Donovan Mitchell, after all, and one regular-season loss can only hurt so heavily.

But Mitchell had a courtside seat to Cleveland’s lightweight loss to a New York team missing Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson O.G. Anunoby and Jalen Brunson, who left the game on its second possession. And when Hart sunk a step-back 3-pointer with 1:36 remaining and pretended to steal Mitchell’s gold necklace afterward — “Ooooh, that’s nice,” Hart reportedly said of the jewelry — he sent a concerning message that should bother every Cavs player/coach and worry every Cleveland fan:

I own this team.

Jimmy Watkins

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Consider the last 12 matchups, during which the Knicks own a 9-3 against Cleveland (5-2 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse) as proof. Consider Hart’s audacious celebration a reminder that New York harbors no fear — and perhaps not much more respect — for their former playoff adversaries. And considering that Sunday’s game was played on ESPN, New York’s latest sonning of Cleveland likely found a wide audience.

Think the other Eastern Conference contenders were watching the eight-man Knicks control the second half against Cleveland? Think they’re cutting the Cavs slack for playing without Mitchell? And do you think that might inspire confidence into whichever team draws Cleveland in the first round next month?

The Cavs have worked hard and long to shed the soft reputation that followed them after last postseason’s five-game loss to New York, during which Cleveland led for 49 combined minutes. And Cleveland might have been changing minds during an 18-2 stint at the start of 2024. But with New York missing four starters -- arguably its top four players -- after Brunson’s injury, Cleveland needed to take charge. It needed to beat the Knicks, if not beat them badly. The fact that they didn’t, even without Mitchell, highlights the same concerns they have been trying to assuage since New York sounded their alarms last spring.

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Again: One random February loss, especially while missing a superstar, doesn’t make Cleveland a playoff poser again. One random February anything, for that matter, doesn’t mean anything unless it happens again in the playoffs.

But the Knicks have already proven they can bully Cleveland out of the postseason with both teams at full strength. So when they do it again without Brunson -- or Robinson, or Randle, or Anunoby -- only emboldens the bully’s bite. Don’t panic yet, but the Knicks just punked Cleveland with its lightest roster of the season. Hart just mocked the Cavs’ superstar while facing zero push back -- no one wants a fight, but a mean stare wouldn’t have hurt anyone. And that sequence only reinforces the same message that basketball fans already believed about this matchup.

New York owns the Cavs. Or at least, it thinks it does. But at a certain point, the difference is negligible. And at a certain point, Cleveland has to change the Knicks’ mind, along with everybody else’s.

If you or a loved one has questions and needs to talk to a professional about gambling, call the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-589-9966 or the National Council on Program Gambling Helpline (NCPG) at 1-800-522-4700 or visit 1800gambler.net for more information. 21+ and present in Ohio. Gambling problem? Call 1-800-Gambler.

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