BY JEREMY MOONEYHAM
MSG, NYC – 12/7/2016 – New York Knicks (12-9) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (14-5)
The New York Knicks entered Wednesday night’s home game against the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers on a four-game winning streak, winning the night before on the road 114-103 versus the Miami Heat. The Knicks entered Wednesday’s contest winners of seven of nine games overall and had pundits around the league wondering if perhaps the team was for real.
But the Knicks faced a big test, arguably the ultimate test: the champion Cavs led by one of the league’s all-time greats, LeBron James and featuring the dynamic Kyrie Irving as batman to his robin. It had the potential to be a measuring stick for the Knicks, but the Knicks ended up looking small.
Having to sit their starting point guard and third-leading scorer Derrick Rose on the bench due to back spasms didn’t help the Knicks cause, but his absence was hardly the main reason for the team’s struggles. Brandon Jennings started for Rose, while the Cavs subbed DeAndre Liggins for their injured shooting guard former-Knicks sixth man J.R. Smith.
The Knicks only hung in the game for about five minutes before the Cavs took command. After Knicks Center Joakim Noah clanked the second of two free throws with 7:41 left in the first quarter, missing an opportunity to tie the game at 14, the Cavs reeled off eight straight points to take a 22-13 lead. At the end of the first quarter the Cavs were up 36-26
Lebron James and Iman Shumpert led the Cavs charge through the early second quarter, aggressively driving to the basket and scoring on short range shots and free-throw conversions. The Cavs were up 52-42 with less than five minutes left in the second quarter when the Knicks top scorer Carmelo Anthony was forced to the bench with his third foul.
The Knicks number two offensive option, 7’3″ second-year emerging star Kristaps Porzingis continued his recent poor shooting and also would eventually get in foul trouble, leaving the Knicks with few options to contend with the high power Cavs. Kevin Love of the Cavaliers would also contribute to the early lead by going 3 for 7 on three-pointers in the first half. LeBron James would lead all players with 19 points at the half and his Cavs were up by 15, 63-48.
The third quarter did not get any better for the Knicks, as the home squad gave up three wide open 3-pointers to start the second half and would eventually be laughed out of their own building, closing the third quarter down 92-65. The Cavs rubbed it in, executing an alley-oop from Irving to James. The game’s best player James made the Knicks top star Carmelo Anthony look foolish on an emphatic blocked shot.
The Cavs carnage would continue in the fourth quarter and Cleveland cruised to a 126-94 victory. Kyrie Irving led all scorers with 28 points and LeBron James added 25, sitting out most of the fourth quarter. Brandon Jennings was the top producer for the Knicks with 16 points. Courtney Lee added 15 points for the Knicks while going 3 for 7 from beyond the 3-point arc.
The road win keeps the Cavaliers (15-5) atop the Eastern Conference by 1.5 games and 4 games ahead of the Knicks, while the loss drops the Knicks to 12-10, still only one game out of the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. While the Knicks of late have been playing their best basketball since their 54 win – 28 loss season in 2012-13 the thorough route at the hands of the Cavs casts doubt on the team’s claim of being a top-level contender.
New York hits the road Friday, playing the Sacramento Kings Dec. 9 in the first of 5-game western road swing in which they’ll also face the Lakers, Suns, Warriors and Nuggets. Of the five Western teams they’ll face on the trip only the title-contending Warriors (18-3) have a record over .500. The combined record of the other four teams they’ll meet on the road swing is currently a meager 32-57.
Most of the Knicks’ remaining December games are on the road. They won’t play at Madison Square Garden again until they face off vs. the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 20 in the first of three consecutive home games, before heading back out on the road for three more games.
Notable celebrities who showed up for the Knicks matchup vs. the champion Cavs included Jimmy Fallon, Katie Holmes, Woody Allen and Howard Stern. Former Knicks Head Coach Jeff Van Gundy was given a standing ovation after being featured on the Jumbotron-a classy show of respect to the man who left the Knicks some 15 years earlier. Since Van Gundy’s December 2001 departure from the Knicks the team has been a consistent mess, qualifying for the playoffs only four times between the 2001-02 and 2015-16 seasons and winning merely one playoff series.
The Knicks lost 11 consecutive playoff games in the postseason appearances they made in 2005, 2011 and 2012 before finally winning Game 4 of their 2012 first round series vs. the Miami Heat. The following season the Knicks won their only playoff round since 2001, defeating the Celtics 4 games to 2 before the Pacers pushed them aside in Round 2, also in six games.
Will 2016-17 bring playoff sucess to the Knicks as the 21-year-old Latvian rising star Kristaps Porzingis brings renewed hope to the franchise or will Wednesday’s game be a harbinger of things to come? Stay tuned.