Cleveland Cavaliers (15-5) 126
New York Knickerbockers (12-10) 94
Leave it to a weekday date with the New York Knicks in The Garden to rejujuvenate (rejuvenate the juju) of the Cleveland Cavaliers. After everyone had a mini-panic attack last Friday after the Cavs took one on the chin against the Chicago Bulls (their third consecutive loss), the Cavaliers restored order to the universe by chiding aspiring Eastern Conference rivals the Toronto Raptors on Monday, and then thumping the Knicks in New York on Wednesday.
The NBA season is full of ups and downs, and though I expect few three-game skids the rest of the way, the Cavaliers are not going to be aces every night. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see the Cavs give the Knicks a good ol’ fashioned ass-kicking to remind us that losing streaks are an aberration for this team, and there’s no sense getting our proverbial panties in a bunch over December losses.
Quick aside on our way to the box score: Known colloquially as the New York Knicks, the team’s Knickname (see what I did there?) is short for “Knickerbockers.” A Knickerbocker is, according to Dictionary.com, a “a descendant of the Dutch settlers of New York,” or alternatively “any New Yorker.” So, New York’s basketball team is effectively named the New York New Yorkers. The redundancy is like naming your professional sports franchise the San Diego San Diegans, or the Boston Assholes. My point is that the Knicks’ team name is very very silly. Oh, we’ve made it to the box score already. Sorry for the digression. Let’s have a look, shall we?
69 – The Cavs’ Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love combined for 69 points in three quarters on Wednesday, outscoring the Knicks 69-65 over that span. Kyrie Irving would add a token five points in the fourth quarter while his compadres sat comfortably on the bench. That’s how you demolish a conference foe. But how’d they do individually?
25/7/6 – LeBron James was one short of his seventh Oscar1 of the season. James always thrives under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, as he entered Wednesday averaging 30.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 7.2 assists in the Garden since 2006. James scored in a variety of ways, amassing his 25 points on a hyper-efficient 10 field goal attempts (yikes), and set the tone early with some downright vengeful play. James looked fantastic on Wednesday, zooming around the court like a freshly waxed convertible with the top town — free, liberated, and flashy.
28, 6, 1, 1 – Kyrie Irving continues to be the Cavs’ leading scorer, adding another 28 points on 9-of-17 shooting (52.9 percent), including 4-of-6 from three-point range and 6-of-6 from the free throw line. Though, to be fair, he did have time to set his feet, catch the ball, take a deep breath, and line up a shot on one of his three-pointers before any Knick defenders were close enough to shoot him with a musket.
The other “1” and “1” Kyrie attained on Wednesday night? One converted water bottle flip while killing time on the bench in the fourth quarter, and one successful use of the word “demonstrative” in his post-game interview with Allie Clifton.
21 – Kevin Love scored 21 points on Wednesday night, including four three-pointers. But Love’s main contribution was firing the warning shots in the first quarter that signaled to the Knicks that they were in deep peril: scoring 16 points with three threes in the opening frame and throwing two dynamite outlet passes to James (one of which is shown in the James dunk above). While James and Irving tend to do their thang independent of outcome, Love’s a bellwether for the Cavs: He scores 10.0 points per first quarter in wins, only 6.0 in losses, a difference larger than his overall scoring difference in wins vs. losses. Knicks’ center/forward Kristaps Porzingis clearly had trouble knowing whether to help on LeBron’s drives or stay with Love on the perimeter. He chose … poorly.
22 – The Cavs made a bonkers 22 threes against the Knicks on 40 attempts (55.0 percent), including four each from Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Iman Shumpert. Since 1983, there have only been 29 games in which a team made 20 or more threes, and three of them have been Cavs’ games this season. Think about that for a moment: since the day before Thanksgiving, the Cavs have more than 10 percent of Basketball-Reference’s recorded 20+ three-pointer games. It’s not fluky when it happens at that frequency, and, as Scott Sargent showed this week, (( If you haven’t yet, that link is a must-read for all Cavalier or basketball fans. Great look by Scott at what James does better than anyone else in the league and how he does it. )) it’s the result of LeBron James’ otherworldly passing skills, his attention to detail, and the cadre of shooters around him. See the stat below from Synergy Sports for further proof. Oh, the Cavs were also one away from tying the NBA record for three-point field goals in a game (23, set by the Orlando Magic in 2009, a team Cavs fans should remember well, and tied by the Houston Rockets in 2013).
20 & 0 – Tristan Thompson had 20 rebounds against the Knicks yet, miraculously, had zero made field goals. This is Tristan Thompson’s first time joining the Rodman Club, as it’s a feat Rodman accomplished an astounding 12 times (it’s only happened 18 times since 1983). It’s a shame Thompson had to make those three free throws (the Cavs certainly didn’t need them), as he narrowly missed the prestigious 20-rebound, 0-point Club, an even rarer feat only accomplished by three players (Rodman, Marcus Camby, and Reggie Evans) on record. The Iron Man was only one board away from tying his career high.
20 – Starting in place of the injured J.R. Smith, DeAndre Liggins gave the Cavaliers 20 valuable minutes. The man entered Wednesday’s game with only 102 Cavalier minutes total, and 508 minutes in his entire NBA career. So Liggins played 16.4 percent of his Cavalier tenure and 3.9 percent of his NBA career on Wednesday night. On Tuesday, Andrew Schnitkey (rightly) lamented the Cavaliers’ lack of depth, so it was a relief to see Liggins come in and play some valuable minutes and some feisty defense. When discussing the Cavaliers’ struggles last week, I opined that their biggest problem was a lack of defensive communication, and Liggins sparked defensive cohesiveness with his effort — primarily on Courtney Lee and Brandon Jennings — helping the Cavaliers generate 16 New York turnovers.
The spirit of defensive communication was best exemplified in the second quarter, when James gambled for a steal on a pass to Carmelo Anthony, narrowly missing. Richard Jefferson shaded over from his man to help on Carmelo. But as James recovered to regain position in front of Anthony, he talked — no, rather screamed — to Richard Jefferson “I’m back I’m back I’m back!” so that Jefferson knew he could leave Anthony to resume his ordinary defensive duties. It seems like a small, insignificant moment, but communication is the key to team defense, and when James is going well beyond what’s normal to keep chatter going on defense, it makes the Cavaliers that much harder to score on and, thus, defeat. With Derrick Rose out with back spasms, the Cavaliers needed to end the three-game road trip with a win, and thanks to Liggins, James & Co., they did so in the form of 32-point ass-whooping.
- A 25/7/7 game, named in honor of Oscar Robertson. I’m going to make this “a thing” if it’s the only basketball blogging-related thing I accomplish in my lifetime, damn it! [↩]