NCAA Tournament, Knicks, Nets, Rose

Do Knicks have killer instinct?

There’s no doubt that the Knicks have come a long way from what they used to be.

After being losers for two decades, they are likely to advance to the second round for the first time in a decade after seizing a 102-93 Game 4 victory over the overmatched Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. They have a 3-1 series lead over their first-round opponent, and they could finish them off Wednesday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

To show the Knicks are really back, like the good old days when they contended for championships, they need to show their killer instinct by ending the Cavs' season in Game 5. There’s no reason for this series to go on. We have seen enough to know the Knicks are simply the better team after they won the regular season series, by winning three out of four games this year, as well as three out of four postseason games.

They should learn and apply what the Philadelphia 76ers did when they swept the inept Nets in the best-of-seven playoff series.

The Knicks took charge early by taking a 30-23 lead to finish the first quarter before parlaying that to a 54-45 lead at halftime. You never got the impression they were losing this game, even when the Cavaliers took their first lead of the game at 63-61 in the third quarter. After Jalen Brunson hit a timely 3-pointer - of course, he did-, giving the Knicks a 73-71 lead to end the third quarter, it was easy going for the home team as they outscored their opponent 29-22 in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

The Knicks’ success starts and ends with Brunson, just like any team’s would with a great player. When he plays well, the fans and his teammates feed off it. That’s been the team’s MO all season.

Brunson can attack by shooting three-pointers, driving through the paint for layups and finishing the other team off. The Knicks haven’t had a player that can impact a game like this since Patrick Ewing.

He displayed all that on his way to 29 points in a performance that would lead the Knicks to a Game 4 victory. He has been the best player in the series by playing defense and making clutch shots. It’s why the Knicks have the series lead, and it’s why they had more than a puncher’s chance to beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

He has given the Knicks a chance to knock out the Cavaliers. If he plays well in Game 5, there’s no doubt it will likely happen.

As great players do, Brunson can sense defeat from the other team. This is when he can go into attack mode and finish them off. There’s no reason to doubt his ability to do that. The Cavaliers have no answers to stop him and he has already frustrated the Cavs on the defensive end.

Brunson is not afraid of the moment. He shines in moments like this. The Knicks know they can finish the Cavaliers, and deep down, the Cavaliers likely know that, too. There’s no doubt he will be at his best on Wednesday.

Great players like him get it. They know when it’s time to finish a team off. There’s no reason to give the Cavaliers hope anymore. There’s no reason to extend the series.

Wednesday should serve as an opportunity to show the Knicks really have grown up. A championship team has that killer instinct to go out and end the other team’s season. Game 5 should serve as a learning process and barometer to see how far the Knicks have gone.

There’s no doubt Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau will coach like Game 5 is a championship game. He understands what it takes to be a championship contender after serving as Jeff Van Gundy’s assistant coach with the Knicks. He has been around the 90s Knicks to know how important it is to finish a team off.

Brunson will share his head coach’s urgency. Will other players follow? Only Game 5 will tell.

It won’t be easy since this game is on the road and it’s hard to finish a team off, but this should not deter the Knicks. Great teams make it look easy, and this is where we are going to find out how far the Knicks really have come.

This isn’t about making the playoffs or winning a first-round matchup anymore. This is about being a championship team. This is where the Knicks should be. There’s a 50-50 chance the Knicks can represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo out with a lower back contusion—the result of being fouled by Kevin Love while driving to the basket in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series against the Miami Heat —the Eastern Conference is up for grabs. There’s a strong chance the Bucks star will sit out in this series. If so, the Heat could suddenly have a chance to beat the Bucks.

If that happens, the Heat would then have to play the Knicks to contend with. The Heat can be beat—the Knicks won three of four against them in the regular season. There's simply no other player that's as good as Brunson.

If the Knicks advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, anything is possible. As good as the Boston Celtics and 76ers are, they're still a ways from being world-beaters.

The opportunity awaits, but first things first: eliminate the Cavaliers.

The Knicks would serve notice by doing just that. As satisfying as it was winning the two games at home, it would be nothing short of spectacular to close out the Cavs’ season at their place as opposed to playing one more game at the Garden.

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