Let’s go back to Sept. 1, 2022. In a move that rocked the NBA world, the Cavaliers, not the New York Knicks, traded for Donovan Mitchell. Non-Knicks fans stood by and laughed as New York proceeded to extend RJ Barrett while the Knicks were labeled as nothing more than a team that would be fighting to earn a spot in the play-in tournament.
Now, let’s fast-forward to the present. With New York and Cleveland tied at 1-1 in the first-round playoff series after splitting Games 1 and 2 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the narrative was about Donovan Mitchell returning “home” to the Garden. The notorious playoff star wouldn’t let the Cavaliers lose Games 3 and 4 at MSG, right?
Donovan Mitchell wouldn’t score only two points in the second half of a pivotal Game 4, would he? In what once existed only in the dreams of Knicks fans, that’s exactly what happened. Jalen Brunson was the best guard on the floor (again) as New York won Game 4, 102-93, to take a massive 3-1 series lead.
Donovan Mitchell forgets to show up in pivotal Game 4 as Knicks take 3-1 lead
Donovan Mitchell finished with 11 points, shooting 5-of-18 from the field and 0-of-4 from three (hello, Knicks defense!) in 42 minutes. His career-low in the playoffs happened in 2022 when he scored only nine points (4-of-15) in Game 5 of the Jazz-Mavericks playoff series. Guess who outplayed him then? Jalen Brunson.
After being traded to Cleveland, Mitchell revealed that he thought he was going to New York. He believed that he was going to the Knicks to play for his “hometown” team, but he winded up in Ohio instead.
Months have gone by with people relentlessly criticizing Leon Rose and the front office for not trading for Mitchell. The 26-year-old had a tremendous regular season with the Cavaliers that included being named an All-Star starter and dropping an absurd career-high 71 points. The Knicks finishing as the No. 4 seed in the East and the Cavaliers finishing No. 5 couldn’t have worked out any better for the league.
However, with the exception of Game 2, New York has outworked Cleveland. Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein have dominated Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley down low. RJ Barrett has had the two best back-to-back games of his career. Josh Hart has continued to be the glue guy in his playoff debut. Jalen Brunson has outplayed Donovan Mitchell for the second straight year.
Although spirits are high, the job isn’t over for the Knicks yet. New York will have the chance to win the series on Wednesday in Cleveland, but if that doesn’t happen, the series will return to the Garden for Game 6.
Passing on Donovan Mitchell hasn’t wrecked the Knicks in the way that many suspected, and while Mitchell would never admit it, the guard might be wishing that Leon Rose would’ve gone all-in and met Danny Ainge’s demands.