Madison Square Garden was rocking — something all too rare in recent years. Monday night against the hated Cavaliers, through three quarters Tim Hardaway Jr. and Enes Kanter each had 20 points, the Knicks defense had forced 12 steals, Knicks fans were into it and chanting “Ky-rie Ir-ving” at LeBron James, then the crowd went over the top when Kanter and Frank Ntilikina stood up to LeBron.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers were napping. All season long against opponents they don’t perceive as a threat they have coasted, and clearly the Knicks didn’t scare the Cavaliers at all. New York led by 23 at one point in the third and it was a 15-point point Knicks lead.
Then the fourth quarter started.
Cleveland put up 43 points on 26 shots, Kyle Korver got red-hot and hit five threes on his way to 19 points in the frame, LeBron had eight assists, the Cavaliers had seven offensive rebounds and three blocks. The Cavaliers defended like they cared, battled back to tie the game.
Then LeBron did this to Porzingis.
That put the Cavaliers up for good. What would have been an ugly loss for Cleveland and a confirmation win for the Knicks turned into a reminder of the status quo in the East as Cleveland held on to win 104-101.
The win pulls the Cavaliers back up to .500 on the season at 7-7, and while they still have some problems to address — and key guys to get healthy, Isaiah Thomas and Tristan Thompson — this team can find a gear nobody else in the East can reach. (Boston may like to dispute that, there’s a long season to see if that’s true.)
The Knicks fall to 7-6 on a night their young star Kristaps Porzingis was off, finishing the night with 20 points on 21 shots. The Knicks struggled to defend Kyle Korver and his off-the-ball movement in the fourth, and once a couple of shots fell (he started the game 0-of-4) he got hot as only the great shooters can.
This also exposed the need for the Knicks to get — or develop in Ntilikina — a shot creator on the perimeter. When the Cavaliers started to care on defense, they made it rough for Porzingis to get the ball and start the offense, he needs another playmaker on the roster and they don’t have that yet.
It was a learning experience for the Knicks — they are going to have a lot of rough ones of these in the coming year. This is a team on the rise, but a young team that is going to lose some games they should have won. It’s the way of the league, what matters is what they do out of it.