They’re not Cavaliers, they’re daredevils. Just like Evel Knievel, there is no good reason for what they do, but damn if it isn’t exciting to watch. On a bad shooting night from 3 (21%), the line (58%), and the bench (5-19), the Cavaliers turned up their defense in the second half, and turned to their closer down the stretch to win 90-84 over the Knicks on a tense night in New York.
“Acknowledging the fact that we didn’t have it going offensively and if we wanted to win the game, we had to get stops,” said Blatt after the game. “Defensively in the first half we weren’t where we needed to be and where we normally are. Some games you have to win without your fastball and this was another of those games.”
James answered the bell, ending a seven-minute scoring drought between the third and fourth quarters, as part of a 12-point fourth that matched the Knicks' output for the quarter. In the final three minutes James turned into Mariano Rivera, showing New York something they simply couldn’t catch up with.
We wanted to say, “couldn’t lay their fingers on” because you know you can’t touch the King. But they smudged the glass like a snotty 6-year-old. On the game’s crucial play, Carmelo Anthony was more handsy than the frat boy on Spring Break, but James didn’t let it shake him. The game was tied when LeBron made this move.
LeBron scored three consecutive baskets down the stretch to nail down the game, battling back from a six-point deficit with a little over five minutes left. When Anthony scored on a putback with 5:24, it put the Knicks up 6. Mo Williams drained a three to cut the lead in half. Then Porzingis took it into the lane for a banked hook shot to push the lead to 82-77. The Knicks would only score once more the rest of the game.
They would continue to work Carmelo Anthony, but LeBron would thwart him, first forcing a travel, then knocking away an entry pass that Knicks PG Jose Calderon wound up throwing out of bounds. Amusingly, the sequence began with a great drive and feed to LeBron, who was mugged by the Knicks and didn’t get a call. It was like the end of NBA Finals Game One all over again.
LeBron lollygagged on the other end, incredulous at how Amundson (?) slapped LeBron’s arms on his drive. The New York City subways are cleaner than that block, but karma rebounded quick as the Knicks blew their five on four and Tristan Thompson threw a baseball pass three-quarters of the court to LeBron for the score.
After getting Prozingis in a switch (why didn’t the Knicks send immediate help? Like Porzingis stay in front of LeBron? Yeah, right), LeBron drove to the lane while the Tristan potential oop kept the switch-onto-him Anthony from helping Porzingis who had the crestfallen look of someone who roots for the Browns. That tied the game.
Then LeBron took the lead with the aforementioned fall-away J.
“It was a big possession in the game. He plays some pretty good defense, very physical,” LeBron said of the shoulder feint, double pump fallaway. (He was just one fake away from a free fries.) “I just wanted to trust what I’ve been doing over the summer, trust what I do in practice and let it got.”
The battle between Anthony and James went the King’s way, and he mugged and pranced in the excitement of the moment. The fact that he did it as much with defense as offense will escape many, or the fact that this matchup now in something like its 15th year.
“We’ve been playing against each other since I was sophomore and he was a junior,” said James. “Every single year we’ve been playing against each other from Colorado Springs at the junior Olympics through high school all the way to the NBA, and obviously we know each other personally and we know each other’s games, but it’s hard to stop each other.”
As Blatt said, the team found themselves looking to their defense after a lackluster first half where they allowed New York to shoot 47% from the field and from three, and could only manage 39% and 21%. They held the Knicks to 31 points in the second half outscoring them by 13.
The Cavaliers only had four second half assists (three belonging to LeBron), but LeBron suggested a lot of it was guys not making their shots. They were only 14-40 on uncontested shots, 35%, though they also hit half their contested ones. The interesting Passes/Touches stat (71.9%) is about average (they’ve run 73.6% to 69.8% during season), also echoes his assertion.
“We missed a lot of shots,” James said. “We move the ball at times, a lot of shots didn’t go in... It’s okay some games are going to present themselves and you’re going to need to defend at a high level at the defensive end and make timely shots.”
The Cavs had a seven minute scoreless stretch from four left in the third to three gone in the fourth where they did not score. At all. It included nine missed shots, three missed free thows (all Thompson), two turnovers and an offensive goaltending call on a shot that would’ve gone in.
Only the fact that the Cavs were playing defense saved the day. During that seven-minute stretch the Knicks only scored eight points. For the game the Wine and Gold only allowed 14 shots at the rim, of which the Knicks only made 5.
That beats their season low of 20 (against the Bulls opening night, and against the Knicks nine days ago) and is almost half their season average (26.6). They also contested a very good 56% of the Knicks shots, and the Knicks shot 34% of those attempts.
Plenty of Positives
The game brought lots of good news with a sprinkling of negatives. The latter would be injuries. Richard Jefferson left because of an ankle injury and didn’t return. J.R. Smith had some muscle cramping, and wound up leaving the game, though he did play 27 minutes in his return to New York. Smith was -11 on the +/-, one of only 5 guys in the minus (Jefferson -7, Varejao -5, Mozgov -2).
While Timofey Mozgov didn’t post a great showing with the +/-, he did well by the eye test earning maybe his most extended fourth quarter run of the year. He played almost 27 minutes, was the team’s third leading scorer with 11 and had 7 rebounds.
Matthew Dellavedova was also really good, posting a +13, hitting half of his 8 shots including a very nice baselines double screen that opened up a corner three with an assist from James. As good as this looked expect to see more of it, like the screen they use to free Love for a straight-away three.
Finally, a few words must be said of Mo Williams. He was the Cavaliers' first signing of the off-season, but at the wrong end of 30 must’ve seemed to many an afterthought addition. Many may forget that just 10 months ago, during his 41-game tenure with the Timberwolves, Williams lit up the Pacers for 52, breaking Kevin Love’s scoring record. That alone should say something. As scorers go, he's pretty peerless.
Mo didn’t have much of a first half but in the second half he played 17 and a half minutes, and scored 16 points including a big three to cut the Knicks lead in half midway through the fourth. Williams made five of six second half shots, and sunk four free throws, winding up just behind LeBron’s game-high 18 second half points.
Williams and James combined for 34 of the team’s 44 second half points (Mozgov added another 5) as Kevin Love all but disappeared offensively. He was 1-4, for 3 points with 5 rebounds, two turnovers and no assists. Not sure what to say other than point out again how the integration of Kevin Love into the offense continues to be less than Borg-like.
The Cavs play the Milwaukee Bucks tonight in what will be a very good test of the team’s mettle. As the second half of a back-to-back, this will be tough enough. Now add to that the fast, aggressive style played by Jason Kidd’s collection of long athletic players and consider that they are coming off three days of rest following and a losing back-to-back set, and you can see where the Bucks might come out more like Grizzlies.
It would not surprise us to see the Cavaliers lose, but LeBron & company have been walking that tightrope all year long without ever giving the haters what they crave. Their acrobatic avoidance of disaster has been so Cirque du Soleil that you don’t think they could ever fall. After eight straight wins, this Cleveland sports team has that glint in their eye which makes you believe anything’s possible.
We’re still in New York , but we’ll be tweeting and posting video during the game. Follow us on Twitter at @CRS_1ne, and read our column on the game tomorrow, and the day after every game on the Scene Blog.