CLEVELAND — Somehow, Leon Rose must have regretted keeping all those extra draft picks.
After months of trade talks, the Knicks president couldn’t bring Donovan Mitchell home, and the Knicks saw firsthand what kind of talent they could have — and perhaps should have — had.
Mitchell dominated the Knicks from start to finish, reminiscent of another start to the season that this roster lacked a superstar in a 121-108 Cavaliers victory at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on Sunday night.
Mitchell scored 38 points and added 13 assists as Cleveland, even without All-Star guard Darius Garland, won the final quarter to win its fifth straight game. The Knicks, meanwhile, fell to 3-3 and 0-3 against playoff-caliber opponents. Their perimeter defense was mostly nonexistent, allowing the Cavs to hit 23 of 50 3-point attempts, eight off Kevin Love’s bench (29 points).
The Knicks stars, meanwhile, were nowhere to be found in the streak, as Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett combined for six points in the final quarter. Mitchell scored 12 himself.
The Knicks bench, so solid to start the year, collapsed at the start of the fourth. The quarter started with five empty trips in six possessions and three turnovers. A nine-point lead was erased in a three-point playoff from Love and four-point play from Mitchell with 7:25 left. Love’s four-point play just over two minutes later gave the Cavs the lead for good. From there, Mitchell absolutely took over, sinking a 3-pointer to extend the lead to nine and setting up Love for another 3 to tidy up the game.
Mitchell started the game looking like he was shot down by a cannon, producing 15 points and five assists in the opening 8:39. The Knicks started slow-footed veteran Evan Fournier on Mitchell, and he torched him from deep. At one point, Mitchell walked into a 25-footer – one of his five 3s in the first quarter – like it was nothing as the shot clock expired, and scored or assisted on all 14 Cavaliers points. in an electric 14-5 run that gave them a 10-point advantage late in the first quarter.
The Knicks did well to stay close, responding to that Mitchell-led run with 10 straight points. They were down just three at the break despite their porous 3-point defense that allowed the Cavs to hit 12 of 22 from downtown.
Barrett entered the game 4 of 28 from range and was successful on all three attempts from beyond the arc in the first half. He was the Knicks’ best player in the first 24 minutes, just ahead of their main backups, Isaiah Hartenstein and Immanuel Quickley. After his draw on Friday, Brunson didn’t start much better, going 1-7 in the first half and missing shots he had made for most of the start of the season.
He took it back after halftime, scoring a 12-1 Knicks run that turned a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead. The Cavs stormed through, starting with a Mitchell 3-pointer and eventually getting even on Dean Wade’s 3-pointer, but Brunson and Co. kept pushing in what was arguably their best quarterback of the season. . When it was over, the Knicks led nine, having beaten the Cavaliers 34-22, forcing four turnovers and holding Cleveland to 3 of 15 shots from deep. Brunson scored 12 points in the frame, shaking off a sluggish first half.