New York Knicks (23-35) 103
Cleveland Cavaliers (40-16) 119
With NBA teams just returning to the floor for the first time since the All-Star break, and with the trade deadline passing Thursday afternoon, the Cleveland Cavaliers officially kicked off their stretch run by hosting the New York Knicks.
While many proclaiming the relatively quiet trade deadline a de facto win for the Cavaliers off the court, the team followed suit in kind by securing a win on it. Rumors of a Carmelo Anthony trade to Cleveland never seemed to quite go away, so this matchup falling on trade deadline day carried a certain sense of irony to it. Regardless, Carmelo wasn’t traded and as the TNT broadcast pointed out, this fact might present a certain sense of calm to the organization and perhaps the Knicks could finally put together some good basketball in the second half of the season.
This game started off looking like there might be something to that. The Knicks, led by Courtney Lee, got off to a nice start and built an early ten point lead. Then Kyle Korver came into the game for the Cavaliers and in the blink of an eye, the deficit was wiped away. The Cavaliers ended the first quarter up one, and then in the second quarter they pushed the lead to 18 and the game was well in hand.
The Knicks tried to make it a little bit interesting in the third quarter as they cut the lead all the way down to eight points, but they just couldn’t sustain the momentum. The Cavaliers, led by some brilliant passing from LeBron James and some incredible shooting by Kyle Korver, were able to re-establish control of the game and the outcome was never in question again.
Cleveland is now 8-1 in the month of February and they’ve won 10 of their last 11 games overall. With the potential acquisition of Deron Williams as well as the eventual return of JR Smith and Kevin Love, there is some actual depth on the horizon. This season has mostly been about hanging on and surviving for the Cavaliers. Injuries, personal tragedies, and rumors have plagued the defending Champions all season, but the Cavaliers still sit in first place in the Eastern Conference and are still on the path to returning to the NBA Finals for a third consecutive season. Being able to work in some depth just in time for the playoffs will be a huge relief for the Cavaliers.
Now for the numbers:
- 18/15/13 – LeBron James just doing LeBron James things. His 18 points were a pretty loud 18 points with some absolutely ferocious drives and dunks, timely shots, and back-breaking timing. LeBron recorded yet another triple-double with 18 points, 15 assists, and 13 rebounds. He also added three blocks including one insane block where Courtney Lee was going in for a dunk and LeBron timed it perfectly and actually pinned the ball to the backboard. It was insane. And this game was insane for LeBron in general. It served as yet another example of how LeBron continues to dominate games and impose his will on the team without having to carry the burden of the scoring load.
- 6 – If anyone seemed to make the most of their All-Star break and return ready to go, it had to be Tristan Thompson. Tristan played like a man possessed in this one. He had 6 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone to set the tone. He finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds to go with his four blocked shots. He had one sequence where he made an incredible block on a Derrick Rose layup attempt, leading to a fast break the other way. On the break, Channing Frye missed a three-point shot but Tristan had run all the way back down the court and was there to clean up the miss with a loud one-handed put-back dunk. Whether it was the break or the more pronounced beard, Tristan played one hell of a game.
- 6 of 10 – With all the focus on the trade deadline this afternoon and the collective shrugs of indifference as the deadline came and went without any major moves being made, people seemed to forget that the Cavaliers traded for Kyle Korver. Sure, it wasn’t at the deadline, but David Griffin continues to show incredible ability to make the right moves at the right times. Korver has been nothing short of incredible since joining the Cavaliers. Against the Knicks, he knocked down six of his ten three-point attempts. He finished with 20 points, second on the team only to Kyrie Irving. But beyond just his scoring, Korver also showed tremendous hustle on defense, routinely knocking away passes and doing the little things to frustrate the Knicks offense. Korver ended the game with a game-high +27 rating.
- 100% – Courtney Lee, despite his recent bout with the flu and trade rumors, has been pretty good for the Knicks this season. Shooting a career-high, Lee was really settled nicely into his “Three and D” role on the team. Against the Cavaliers Thursday night, Lee was one of the few real bright spots for the Knicks. Lee got off to a scorching hot start knocking down all six of his first-quarter shots en route to 13 points. Lee finished with a game-high 25 points which also served as his season-high output.
- 9 of 25 – Carmelo Anthony insisted he was happy and relieved to still be a Knick. On the TNT broadcast, they reported that Anthony spoke to his teammates and implored everyone to take a deep breath and start the second half of the season with a refreshed and renewed spirit. And then he went out and shot nine-for-25 from the floor without attempting a single free throw. Sure, he finished with 20 points and he had one stretch in the third quarter where he hit some tough shots on a few possessions in a row to bring the game closer to doubt. But it was still a woefully inefficient game and it highlights exactly why the Cavaliers were smart to stay away from trading Kevin Love for Carmelo.
Looking forward, the Cavaliers still have two more home games to close out the month of February. Then they head to the most brutal stretch of their schedule this season with just five home games in the whole month of March, compared to 12 games on the road. When they come out the other side of March, they will just have to finish up the half-month of April and then it will be playoff time.
This will be an important month for the Cavaliers as they continue to wait to get back to full strength. If they get through March in decent shape, they should be good to for the playoffs. But first they have to finish off February strong, and so now they conclude the friends-of-LeBron mini-tour when they host Dwyane Wade and the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.