All looked lost through three quarters of Cleveland’s game against the New York Knicks on Monday night. The Cavaliers were listless and unable to produce any sort of offense, scoring only 61 points in 36 minutes of play. LeBron James showed an embarrassing lack of effort, lazily allowing the ball to be stripped from his possession, and not providing any sort of defense. The Knicks drove to the basket again and again with James watching instead of helping.
Down by 23 at one point, the Cavaliers exploded in the fourth quarter, coming all the way back while scoring 43 points in the game’s final twelve minutes. Kyle Korver led the way with his shooting—after an 0-5 start from three-point range, he ended the game with 21 points, 19 coming in the last quarter alone. LeBron scored the game-icing three pointer, pulling up in front of rising star Kristaps Porzingis from his customary spot on the left wing.
There was a lot of emotion heading into this game, as James had jabbed at Phil Jackson (and by extension Frank Ntilikina) and Knicks center Enes Kanter had responded in kind. The argument among the three showed on the court in a first-half skirmish, and the battle of words continued even after the game.
More importantly, however, is the potential for this game to turn the Cavaliers’ season around. The team showed a commitment to defense during the comeback that had not been present through the year’s first 13 games. LeBron played Porzingis roughly down the stretch, holding him back and making it tough for the center to get shots up. Porzingis, the “Unicorn,” was left flailing and flopping as his only method of scoring, trying feverishly to get to the free throw line.
The ball movement was much improved as well. Once Korver began to catch fire, Cleveland worked around the perimeter to find the shooting guard for open shots. James utilized his passing skills, totaling 12 assists on the game, but especially set up teammates throughout the late-game run.
Dwyane Wade continued his recent streak of solid play, recording 15 points and 8 rebounds. After a terrible start to his season, Wade has found himself in his new sixth man role. He is the main ball handler for the second unit, and has effectively created shots. Wade made several important effort plays for Cleveland, grabbing two huge offensive rebounds late in the game. The veteran has become a bright spot, with a better attitude than most of the team.
The Cavaliers might have hit on something with the James-Wade-Korver-J.R. Smith–Channing Frye lineup that won the team the game. The five provided an effective mixture of three-point shooting, defense, and hustle. James and Smith made up for Frye’s slow defensive feet, Wade’s lack of ability to space the floor was negated by the other four, and all five players tried their hardest down the stretch.
It is important for the Cavaliers to realize now what consistent effort, ball movement, and intensity can accomplish. Cleveland was overwhelmed and dominated by the Knicks through three quarters, but ran New York off the floor in the fourth. The Knicks simply could not stop the Cavs.
Cleveland plays the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. Charlotte, with a record of 5-7, is a team which the Cavaliers should be able to defeat handily. We will see if Monday night’s lessons carry over.
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