Latest posts by Sam Amico (see all)
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The season is only 14 games old and already, the Cleveland Cavaliers have given us enough memories to last a lifetime.
And if not a lifetime, at least enough to get us to the next fun-loving and drama-filled moment.
The latest example took place Monday at the mecca of pro hoops, as the Cavs overcame a 23-point deficit to silence the Madison Square Garden crowd and somehow emerge with a 104-101 victory over the New York Knicks.
How did it happen? Well, for the Cavs, it simply came down to their ability to ride a bunch of old guys.
Kyle Korver, age 36, did the majority of his damage when it meant the most, burying every important 3-pointer on his way to 19 fourth-quarter points. Before that, Korver had scored a whopping two.
Guess some things really do get better with age.
Or how about Dwyane Wade, age 35?
All he did was play the entire fourth, score 15 points and grab the most important offensive rebound of the season. Wade did it with the outcome in the balance, soaring through the air like a 23-year-old, snatching an errant shot off the glass.
Wade promptly delivered a pass to longtime running-mate LeBron James (who turns 33 in a month), and James just did what he always does. He delivered.
Of course, that’s not even the half of it.
James had a chance to ice the game in the final seconds — but missed two free throws. Somehow, he grabbed the rebound on the second miss to run out the clock, as he lifted his arms to the heavens to plead for one last foul.
No whistle would be come, but the final buzzer did, and for the Cavs (7-7), that clearly was reward enough.
The defending Eastern Conference champions have now won three of four, and are back to .500 for the first time in what feels like 100 years, or Phil Jackson’s first birthday, whichever was longer ago.
But it took a lot of missed shots, a lot of forgotten defensive assignments and a fair share of trash talk to get there.
How bad were things for most of the first three quarters? Bad enough that Cavs coach Tyronn Lue felt compelled to yank his five starters midway through the third.
Some, such as Kevin Love, never saw the floor again.
Instead, it was James, Korver, Wade, Channing Frye and Jeff Green, with a little bit of J.R. Smith.
The result was the Cavs outscoring the Knicks by a 43-25 count in the fourth — and Korver and others finding their range after not being able to throw it in the Hudson River for most of the night.
Late last week, James took a shot at former Jackson, the former Knicks president, by saying the Knicks should’ve drafted Dallas Mavericks rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. This, of course, got back to the man the Knicks actually did draft, rookie guard Frank Ntilikina, and his fiery teammates.
(For the record, Ntilikina was selected by the Knicks with the No. 8 overall pick, one spot ahead of Smith.)
So things were bound to get heated following a James dunk, after which Ntilikina attempted to grab the ball and take it back to the baseline to throw it in. James, however, refused to move, and Ntilikina gave him a shove.
FIGHT TO THE FINISH
It could have ended there, but Knicks center Enes Kanter got involved, going chin to chin with the Cavs star. James shoved Kanter, and both players received technical fouls. Eventually, everyone went back to playing basketball. Or at least everyone on the Knicks did.
The Cavs seemed to cower for a bit, committing turnovers, missing wide-open jumpers and just generally looking old and overmatched.
But that age turned to know-how in the game’s most intense moments, and the Cavs did what they’ve been doing a lot of lately. They simply found a way to get back in it when all else seemed lost.
The war of words continued during the large media scrums that follow every Cavs basketball event, with Kanter firing first.
“I don’t care … what you call yourself. King, Queen, Princess, whatever you are. You know what, we’re going to fight and nobody out there (is) going to punk us,” Kanter told reporters.
James got wind of these comments, smiled and called them “corny,” then offered some words of his own.
“I’m the King, my wife is the Queen and my daughter is the Princess,” he told the media. “So we got all three covered.”
The Cavs, it seems, have more than James’ family covered. On this night, they had his back, too.
While James finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, it truly was a team-wide effort in the truest sense. Along with the efforts of Korver and Wade, Jae Crowder chipped in 13 points and Frye went for nine on 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Smith had eight points, five boards and two important threes.
Knicks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. scored a game-high 28 points, as for most of the night, the Cavs had no answers. Kanter was also brilliant with 20 points and 16 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis also scored 20, but he had to fight for every last one, as the Cavs roughed him up and got in his head — with Porzingis missing three of four free throws with the game getting close.
It wasn’t the perfect evening for James and his gang, but a win is a win is a win. It makes no difference that the Cavs had to fight to get it, especially when you consider fight is something the Cavs may have previously lacked.
They made certain that would not be the case here. On this night, the Cavs were the basketball kings, queens, princesses … call them whatever you wish.
But don’t forget to call them the victors, and more importantly, a team that suddenly may be starting to get things figured out.