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NY Post
New York Post
1 Apr 2023

NextImg:Donovan Mitchell looking forward to potential ‘full circle’ Knicks playoff challenge

Donovan Mitchell didn’t come to the Knicks via the trade market last summer, but it certainly looks as if the Westchester product will be opening the postseason against his hometown team.

The four-time All-Star scored 42 points Friday night for the Cavaliers, but Jalen Brunson netted a career-high 48 for the victorious Knicks in a likely first-round playoff preview between the No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s full circle. Wouldn’t want it any other way,” Mitchell said following the Knicks’ 130-116 win Friday in Cleveland. “What kid wouldn’t want to grow up and play against his hometown team in the playoffs? … It’s going to be a lot of fun — if that happens.”

The Knicks, who will face the Wizards on Sunday night at the Garden, entered Saturday 2 ½ games ahead of the sixth-place Nets and 4 ½ games clear of the No. 7 Heat and the play-in tournament.

The Cavs are almost certainly locked into the No. 4 seed, beginning the day 3 ½ games behind the third-place 76ers and three games ahead of the Knicks.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell shoots against New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein.

Both teams were without key player Friday, with Julius Randle (sprained ankle) sidelined for the Knicks, while 2022 All-Star center Jarrett Allen and forward Isaac Okoro were out for the Cavs.

“I think it’s even more important because this is the team we’re probably going to see,” Mitchell said. “Obviously we’re missing people, they’re missing people, but still the same competition, competitiveness. They played well, they did a lot of things well, played together in different ways. We’ll be better.”

Of course, the Knicks pursued the 26-year-old Mitchell, whose father, Donovan Sr., works in the Mets’ front office, last summer before he was dealt by the Jazz to the Cavaliers in September.

“I like to try to move away from this summer. It happened, I’m here and I’m glad to be here,” Mitchell said Friday night. “I’m pretty sure when I go to New York I’m going to get asked the same questions over and over again. But I’m glad to be a part of this group, glad to be with this team and I think for me personally, wouldn’t want it any other way.

“It’s a story [book] ending — not ending, storyline. I think it’s something that’s really special and near and dear to me being able to play in a playoff [series] in front of my friends and family. A team that I grew up watching. Against a guy that’s an assistant coach over there [Johnnie Bryant] who kind of basically taught me everything I know at this point. So it’s great. I’m excited for the challenge.”

Asked what he took away from facing the Knicks this late in the season, Mitchell added, “Different things, won’t share all with you. First and foremost, it opened some guys’ eyes to the level of physicality, the level of every possession.”

Indeed, the Knicks (45-33) grabbed 16 offensive rebounds in the game, including nine by Mitchell Robinson, and they held the Cavs to 14 points in the fourth quarter after they’d scored 102 through three, including a team-record 47 in the opening period.

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Josh Hart was “a monster” in Friday’s game, spearheading the late defensive clampdown.

Mitchell also thought the Knicks played at a noticeably quicker pace with Obi Toppin starting in place of the injured Randle.

Jalen Brunson brings the ball up court during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Jalen Brunson brings the ball up court during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

“I think you learn a lot more from this, you grow from this,” Mitchell said. “Even though the playoffs are right around the corner, we control our destiny and go from there. We’ll probably see these guys in two weeks, so this will be a good film session for us.”

Mitchell also came away impressed but hardly surprised by Brunson’s performance.

“I’ve seen this for years. I saw the same thing last year,” he said. “He’s just shifty. He can get to his spots, different ways. The biggest thing is he had [nearly] 50, but he had nine assists. That’s the standout.

“Fifty is great and it’s a lot of work to put in, but getting everybody else involved that’s what I took away the most.”

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