CLEVELAND (AP) — Jalen Brunson shook off foul trouble and scored 21 of his 27 in the second half, Julius Randle returned from an ankle injury to add 19 and the New York Knicks welcomed Cleveland back to the NBA playoffs by holding off the Cavaliers 101-97 on Saturday night in Game 1.
Brunson was limited to nine minutes in the first half, but hit several big shots down the stretch as the Knicks turned back Cleveland’s late rally led by Donovan Mitchell.
Randle was questionable up until pregame warmups, when he tested the left ankle he sprained two weeks ago. The All-Star forward looked like himself while pacing the Knicks, who fell behind 93-92 with 2:12 left.
With Mitchell making plays all over the floor, the Cavs were within 99-97 in the final seconds when Brunson missed a pull-up, but Randle grabbed his 10th rebound and passed to Quentin Grimes, who was fouled with four seconds left.
Grimes made both free throws as the Knicks finished off the Cavs and disappointed a raucous, towel-waving Cleveland crowd that came alive in the fourth quarter when Mitchell scored 14 to bring the Cavs back.
Mitchell finished with 38 for the Cavs, who returned to the playoff stage for the first time since the 2018 NBA Finals. It’s been a long road back for Cleveland, which wasn’t as hurt by its inexperience as lack of bench production from the bench.
Josh Hart added 17 points — and hit a big 3-pointer down the stretch — for New York, whose reserves outscored the Cavs 37-14.
Jarrett Allen had 14 points and 14 rebounds for Cleveland.
Game 2 is Tuesday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.
Randle missed New York’s final five games after rolling his ankle on March 29, and the injury threatened to derail New York’s playoff hopes. However, he improved this week despite not taking much contact in practice and looked like himself from the outset.
Brunson picked up his second foul with 7:52 left in the first quarter, and coach Tom Thibodeau had no choice but to replace the guard, who scored a career-high 48 points against the Cavs on March 31 — the first game Randle missed.
The Cavs didn’t take advantage with Brunson out as New York reeled off 10 straight points and led 30-24 after one.
Brunson was back on the bench with his third foul midway through the second. Again, Cleveland failed to capitalize and the Knicks led 50-45 at half.
Mitchell landed hard on his lower back after vaulting off a courtside table and landing several rows into the stands while saving a loose ball in the second quarter.
He winced in pain while behind helped up and returning to the floor. Mitchell then thanked fans who cushioned his fall during a subsequent timeout.
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
The Knicks have dominated the Cavs in the postseason, winning all three previous playoff series.
New York swept a three-game series in 1978 at the Coliseum in Richfield, won 3-1 in 1995 at Gund Arena and swept a best-of-5 series in 1996.
Knicks: Impossible to miss while wearing New York’s bright orange, super fan Spike Lee sat courtside. … G Immanuel Quickley is a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year. He averaged 14.9 points in 81 games. Boston’s Malcolm Brogdon and Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis Jr. are the other candidates.
Cavaliers: Cleveland hosted its 81st playoff game in the building, which was previously known as Gund Arena and Quicken Loans Arena. … Four teams have winning postseason records in the arena — the Knicks (5-0), the Spurs (2-0), the Warriors (6-4) and Cavs (57-24). … Browns star Myles Garrett and coach Kevin Stefanski sat near Cleveland’s bench along with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.