CLEVELAND (AP) — Before Donovan Mitchell faced his hometown Knicks in the playoffs, the Cavaliers’ All-Star guard was asked when the inner New Yorker — fast-moving, tough-minded, ultra-competitive — in him comes out most often.
Mitchell paused and smiled.
“Good question,” he said. “We’ll see.”
It’s already time for Mitchell to tap into some of that East Coast attitude, aggressiveness and abruptness.
And for his teammates to get a lot tougher.
Revealing their flaws, the Cavs got pushed around in the series opener, losing 101-97 to the Knicks, who took command early and quieted a Cleveland crowd that had waited five years for the chance to scream again in the postseason.
The Cavs need to rebound, literally and figuratively, in Game 2 on Tuesday night or face the prospect of visiting Madison Square Garden later this week in an 0-2 hole. That would be a daunting task for any team, never mind one like Cleveland, which doesn’t have much postseason experience.
Playoff jitters weren’t a problem in the opener. The Cavs were sorta soft.
New York outrebounded Cleveland 51-38, and the Knicks grabbed 17 offensive boards, none bigger than the last by Julius Randle, who outworked Cavs forward Evan Mobley to corral Jalen Brunson’s miss with 6.9 seconds to go.
Sunday was spent reviewing film of what went wrong. On Monday, the Cavs got on the floor to fix it.
They have to be more physical and Cleveland center Jarrett Allen said that’s as easy as flipping a switch.
“We’ve done it before,” said Allen, who had 14 rebounds in Game 1. “During the regular season, we did it almost every game. We come out flat in the first quarter and then somehow in the second half, we turn into the best team in the world.
“I still believe that we can do it in the rest of the series.”
Mitchell did his part in his Cleveland playoff debut, scoring 38 points, leaping into the stands after a loose ball and diving headfirst on the floor for a tipped assist.
He’ll get another shot, and this time the Cavs need to join him in the fight.
KNICKS AT CAVALIERS
New York leads 1-0. Game 2, 7:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
NEED TO KNOW: With Randle returning from an ankle injury, the Knicks shook off first-half foul trouble for Brunson in Game 1 and made all the big plays down the stretch to win a series road opener for the first time since 1999. The Cavs insist they’re ready for the big stage. It didn’t always look that way Saturday.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Cleveland’s bench. The Cavs need someone outside their starting five to have a major impact, and coach J.B. Bickerstaff may have to consider other options like gritty forward Lamar Stevens or sharpshooter Danny Green, who may be a defensive liability but can spread out New York’s defense.
INJURY WATCH: The Knicks had finally gotten back to full strength only to have versatile guard Josh Hart sustain a sprained left ankle that may keep him out of Game 2. Hart had 17 points, 10 rebounds and hit a clutch 3-pointer the closing minutes in the opener. He’s listed as doubtful.
PRESSURE IS ON: Cavs guard Darius Garland had just one assist in Game 1 and didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth as the Knicks trapped him before Bickerstaff finally moved him to the off-guard spot. Garland’s dribble penetration is key to getting Cleveland’s big men, especially Mobley, more involved in the offense.
HAWKS AT CELTICS
Celtics lead 1-0. Game 2, 7 p.m. EDT, NBATV
NEED TO KNOW: The Celtics led by as many as 32 points and snuffed out a late rally by the Hawks in a 112-99 Game 1 victory. Jayson Tatum scored 25 points but was held to four in the second half. One of Atlanta’s best hopes in the series is to keep pace with Boston’s 3-point shooting. The Hawks didn’t come close to that in the opener, missing their first 10 attempts and shooting 5 of 29 for the game (17%).
KEEP AN EYE ON: Atlanta’s Trae Young. Along with a difficult shooting night (5 of 18), he was picked on by a Boston offense that tried to isolate him in pick-and-rolls. He also had a team-high five turnovers.
INJURY WATCH: Jaylen Brown. Game 1 was the Celtics All-Star’s first since suffering a cut on a finger on his shooting hand during the final week of the regular season that required five stitches. He split the cut open Saturday and played through “constant pain” while leading Boston with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Coach Joe Mazzulla said Monday that Brown was able to practice without restrictions and that he was unaware of him having to get any additional stitching on his hand.
PRESSURE IS ON: Boston. Giving up big leads has been a recurring theme for the Celtics and it returned in Game 1. They are expected to take a 2-0 series lead with FanDuel Sportsbook listing the Celtics as a 10 1/2-point favorite in Game 2.
CLIPPERS AT SUNS
Los Angeles leads 1-0. Game 2, 10 p.m. EDT, TNT
NEED TO KNOW: Kawhi Leonard scored 38 points and Russell Westbrook had a terrific defensive night to spark the Clippers to a Game 1 win on the road. The new-look Suns lost for the first time with star Kevin Durant in the lineup. Durant, Devin Booker and Chris Paul will try to even the series before it moves to LA.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Suns center Deandre Ayton. He was solid for most of Game 1 with 18 points and eight rebounds, but the Clippers grabbed several offensive rebounds down the stretch that Ayton couldn’t corral. Phoenix needs him to be better in Game 2.
INJURY WATCH: The Suns are still missing backup point guard Cameron Payne, who hurt his back in the next-to-last game of the regular season. Without him, the team’s bench is thin. Eight-time All-Star Paul George hasn’t played since March 21 because of a sprained knee.
PRESSURE IS ON: The Suns. They made a trade-deadline deal in February to land Durant, who gives the team a star foursome with Ayton, Paul and Booker. Phoenix was 8-0 with Durant during the regular season. If the Suns can’t bounce back quickly, they’ll be in a 2-0 hole heading to LA.