CLEVELAND — It started with an explosion from Donovan Mitchell, a spin move around a helpless Obi Toppin and a soaring one-handed jam.
From there, Mitchell took the wheel of his steamroller over the Knicks. He found teammate Kevin Love for a few 3-pointers, and hit a few of his own.
Over just two minutes in the fourth quarter — starting that Mitchell jam — the Cavaliers erased an eight-point deficit. And by the buzzer, they won by a healthy margin, 121-108, because nobody could stop Mitchell.
“He’s got great quickness. He’s shifty with the ball,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s at the rim or shooting 3. If you trap him, he’s unselfish. He’ll make the right play. He’s a great player.”
The Knicks could use Mitchell. Definitely on Sunday night, and probably beyond.
Their former trade target turned Sunday into a personal showcase, with an unsaid message hanging over the proceedings: New York’s front office screwed this up.
Of course, there are months and years to determine whether that holds true. But that plethora of future draft picks in New York’s treasure chest, pumped up by team president Leon Rose as his golden parachute, don’t look as promising as Mitchell did Sunday. Nothing did.
The Westchester product scored 38 points with 12 assists. The Cavs outscored the Knicks in the fourth quarter, 37-15, when Mitchell turned on the afterburners.
There was obvious motivation for Mitchell. He wanted to join the Knicks and they never completed the deal, although there’s questions about the willingness of Jazz president Danny Ainge to trade Mitchell to New York.
Mitchell claimed there was nothing extra Sunday, even if his production said otherwise.
“I always love playing against my home team,” said Mitchell, who has scored at least 31 points in five of his six games this season. “It’s easy to point to the summer and say that but I’m pretty much friends with everybody on that team, so it’s always good to play against your guys and I have nothing but love for them.
“Everybody will probably make it that (about the trade that didn’t happen). Not what it is. Got nothing but love for those guys over there. When it’s your home team you want to go out there and play hard. That’s what I was trying to do.”
The Knicks got double-digit scoring from RJ Barrett, (15), Jalen Brunson (16), Evan Fournier (16) and Julius Randle (15).
But they couldn’t keep up with Mitchell and Kevin Love, who knocked down nine 3-pointers and finished with 29 points.
Although he denied it, Mitchell came out like he had a point to prove. He scored 15 points with five assists in the opening 8 minutes, knocking down five treys in that first quarter.
“He had a great game,” Brunson said. “I think we just have to do a better job of making it tougher for him. Once a guy like that gets going and has confident from the start, it’s kind of hard to slow him down. But it’s a team effort. It’s not just one guy guarding him. It’s all of us. We have to be more on a string defensively. Looking out for each other. But I got to give him credit, he’s capable of doing that.”
The Knicks were the favorites all summer to land Mitchell, negotiating with the Utah Jazz while dangling their future draft picks and almost entire roster. But they didn’t dangle enough.
The Cavs swooped in and now own the Eastern Conference’s second-best record at 5-1 with five consecutive victories.
Thibodeau, according to sources, was in favor of acquiring Mitchell and he’d he could make a backcourt with Jalen Brunson work. On Friday, he declined to entertain questions about the failed trade negotiations.
“You already know the answer to that,” he said. “We don’t deal with hypotheticals.”
Mitchell is satisfied with his result.
“You gotta ask (the Knicks if they’d like a do-over). Like I said, I’m happy to be here,” Mitchell said. “It’s over with. We got a good win. We’re 5-1. We will see these guys again in a month or two.”