CLEVELAND (AP) — Julius Randle joked about being out of shape and Josh Hart walked into the postgame news conference wearing a T-shirt with a photo of teammate Jalen Brunson on the front.
The Knicks could finally relax.
Finally at full strength, and following a worrisome few weeks, New York’s season looks much brighter.
Brunson shook off foul trouble and scored 21 of his 27 points in the second half, Randle returned from an ankle injury to add 19 — and a critical final rebound — and the 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 All-Star Donovan Mitchell, who finished with 38 points.
With the Knicks clinging to a 99-97 lead, Brunson missed a pullup with nine seconds left and Randle bailed out New York with his 10th rebound — and the team’s 17th offensive board — that led to Quentin Grimes making two free throws to seal the win.
“You can’t say enough about the monster rebound Julius made at the end,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That rebound was huge. Huge.”
Randle hadn’t played since March 29 because of a sprained left ankle, and said he was thankful he had enough energy for one last jump.
“You see me breathing out there today?” said Randle, who played 34 minutes. “I was tired as hell. But it was just about winning at that point.”
Randle was reminded that the Knicks had a similar play in Game 1 against Atlanta in 2021 but didn’t come up with the ball.
“Funny how things turn, right,” he said.
Game 2 is Tuesday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.