Cavs erase 24-point deficit, jolt Knicks
NEW YORK — On Saturday night, LeBron James started a firestorm in New York with his comments on the Knicks’ selection of first-rounder Frank Ntilikina one pick ahead of the Dallas Mavericks’ impressive rookie, Dennis Smith Jr.
On Monday, James helped the Cleveland Cavaliers storm back against New York.
James had 23 points and came one rebound short of a triple-double as the Cavaliers rallied from a 23-point deficit to defeat the Knicks 104-101 at Madison Square Garden.
“It is never (just) another game in the Garden,” James said after Cleveland’s biggest come-from-behind win in more than a decade. “This is the best basketball arena in the world to play in. I am happy to be a part of this and their crowd is great; their fans are amazing. To be an opposing guy, it is a treat.”
James hit a step-back, 27-foot 3-pointer to put the Cavs up by three with 1:23 left in the game, the final dagger in an 8-0 Cleveland run to complete a rousing comeback.
He finished with 12 assists and nine rebounds, and Kyle Korver added 21 points for the Cavs. James also added three blocks for Cleveland, which has won four of six after dropping four straight.
“I thought his defense is what turned it,” Korver said of James. “He is always going to get in the paint and make plays. That is where he is really special. He is able to do everything, and he showed that tonight in the fourth quarter.”
The Knicks entered the game with some extra energy after James seemingly called out Ntilikina on Saturday, though James later clarified that his main criticism was with former Knicks executive Phil Jackson.
New York center Enes Kanter came to his teammate’s rescue in a social-media post and in follow-up interviews, then rescued the rest of the Knicks early with Kristaps Porzingis facing foul trouble and generally ineffective. Kanter had 20 points and 16 rebounds in his seventh double-double of the year as New York built a big lead.
The Knicks led by as much as 23 in the third quarter before heading into the fourth up 15, and still led by double figures with 6:53 remaining. Cleveland put on the defensive clamps late, though, and the Cavs hit four 3-pointers in the last 4:35, including two by Korver, to upend the previously hot Knicks.
“It is going to be a lesson for us to try to finish these games,” New York coach Jeff Hornacek said. “It is not always about trying to pull it out in the last three or four minutes of the game. I thought late in the third quarter we had a chance to blow it out a little bit.”
Tim Hardaway Jr. had 28 points to lead the Knicks, and added 10 rebounds. Porzingis finished with 20 points, albeit on 7-of-21 shooting.
Facing a Cavaliers team that looked discombobulated on offense early, the Knicks had 10 first-half steals — including five by James’ target, Ntilikina — and forced 12 turnovers, including five by James and three by former Knick Iman Shumpert.
Cleveland cleaned up their offense down the stretch, though, as its outside game came alive. After shooting 2 of 17 from 3-point range in the first half, the Cavs went 14 of 28 from long distance in the second half.
Cleveland, which was without point guard Derrick Rose — who could be out an extended period with an ankle injury — dominated New York in bench scoring. Behind Korver and Dwyane Wade’s 15 points off the bench, the Cavs’ reserves outscored the Knicks’ bench 54-16.
“This is an amazing place to make a comeback in,” Korver said. “That unit has a lot of confidence. We worry about chipping away, don’t worry about getting it back in one shot.”
NOTES: Cleveland’s win evened the season series at one game apiece. New York snapped a 10-game losing streak in the series on Oct. 29 in a 114-95 win. ... The two teams don’t play each other again until early April, when they have a home-and-home in New York and Cleveland on April 9 and 11. ... New York’s Joakim Noah returned from a 20-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs on Monday, but was inactive for the game as Jeff Hornacek wants to bring him along slowly. ... The Cavaliers conclude a four-game road trip on Wednesday at Charlotte.