Nobody saw this coming.
In an electric atmosphere that resembled the Nike spot where the entire city became a part of the new-look Cavaliers, LeBron James struggled in his regular season debut, and the Knicks came away with a 95-90 victory to stun not only those in Cleveland, but every single one of us watching as part of the nationally televised game’s audience.
The fact that the Cavaliers will take some time to come together wasn’t by itself some great surprise. When James formed his first super-team in Miami four years ago, the Heat began the season with a record of just 8-7 through their first 15 games.
But given the way the Knicks looked just one night earlier in a 24-point home loss to the Bulls, the result on this night simply didn’t seem possible.
The emotion of the return to Cleveland and all that went into it clearly affected James. He started things off by trying to involve his teammates instead of taking control himself, and began the game 1-of-9 shooting with four turnovers, while playing just under 21 first half minutes.
Cleveland looked sharp very early, thanks primarily to the play of Kevin Love, who was seemingly unaffected by his new surroundings. He had 12 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter, as the Cavaliers led by as many as nine in the game’s first 12 minutes.
But New York stayed close, and the longer the team did so, the confidence began to build. Despite the Cavaliers being far more talented, the Knicks played sound defense against a team that’s still getting used to playing with one another, and still finding its way in head coach David Blatt’s offensive schemes. Perhaps more importantly, the Knicks excelled on the offensive end of the floor, sharing the ball nicely to rack up 30 assists on the team’s 37 made field goal attempts. Hell, even J.R. Smith had seven assists by himself, and played largely under control in hitting five of his 10 shots.
Some of the opening night jitters might have been felt by Blatt, as well. The first-time NBA coach went heavy minutes with the starters, despite having historically reliable options like Shawn Marion and Mike Miller to turn to when things weren’t working as planned. But he chose to play those two just 13 combined minutes.
Cleveland made a late run to try to steal this one, closing the deficit to just three with 30 seconds left. But Carmelo Anthony, who finished with a game high 25 points, buried a baseline jumper over LeBron that proved to be the dagger that sealed it.
Last year’s Heat team lost the second game of the season to the tanking Sixers, and still made it to the Finals — the point here being that sometimes, things like this can happen. It will take time for these Cavaliers to come together, and while this is undoubtedly a monster of a first head coaching victory for Derek Fisher in his new role with the Knicks, this one game is far from likely to be a predictor of each team’s fortunes once the long grind of the regular season is finished.