NEW YORK – If you were living under a rock for the past five years and had no idea why Knicks fans want LeBron James suiting up in orange and blue for the 2010-2011 season, he put on a clinic last night to explain why. James finished with 52 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, posting his fourth triple-double of the season and 21st of his career. James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 107-102 victory over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
Things didn’t begin well for the Knicks, as Cleveland went on a 10-0 run to start the game. James controlled the entire first quarter scoring 20 of his team’s 36 points. He ended the first quarter with a 20-foot buzzer beating jumpshot.
The second quarter was kinder to the Knicks as it saw them get back into the game. Al Harrington was particularly impressive as he went on an eight-point scoring streak, the last basket coming at 5:21 left in the first half, bringing the deficit down to one point. While James killed New York in the first quarter, the Knicks defense held him to just eight points in the second. The first half came to a close as Chris Duhon nailed a three-pointer with 3.7 seconds left to cut the Cavaliers’ lead to 55-52. Unfortunately, Ben Wallace grabbed two of those points right back posting up a lay-up as time expired.
Harrington tied his season-high mark of 39 points in the game to lead the Knicks. He also brought down 13 rebounds. David Lee had a quiet game, yet still recorded his twelfth straight double-double with 12 points and 10 boards. This feat made him the first Knick since Patrick Ewing in 1995 to record at least 12 consecutive double-doubles (Ewing went on to have 17 straight).
The Knicks had the right gameplan. They know what LeBron does, so why try and foolishly stop him? As Harrington said, what they tried to do was “keep the other guys down.” That, however, didn’t work as it seemed every teammate James dished the ball to hit their shots. This was evident with his 15 assists.
“It would be nice to double him, but LeBron is also one of the best passers in the league,” Head Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I would rather play him hard, but you can’t leave Mo Williams just sitting there and go double him, Mo Williams is an All-Star.”
The Knicks took the lead for the first time in the game with 1:27 left in the third quarter. That’s how impressive the Cavaliers are. You can’t just double-team James every time and expect to get away with it. In addition to Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Wally Szczerbiak are dangerous weapons and they exhibited that last night. Ilgauskas netted 15 points, while Szczerbiak posted a double-double (12 points, 13 rebounds).
When asked which performance was more impressive, Kobe Bryant’s record-setting 61 points at the Garden on Monday night or LeBron’s triple-double last night, Harrington picked James, stating “not only did he have 52, he had 15 assists and that’s actually 30 points. So he affected the game with eighty points.”
With 5:14 left in the fourth quarter, Harrington drained a three-pointer, which was followed by a Nate Robinson jumper to shrivel the Cavs’ lead to 96-95. It was as close as 102-100 with 1:06 remaining in regulation with Cleveland leading. The Knicks just simply couldn’t hit anything in the clutch. In a span of 27 seconds, Harrington, Wilson Chandler and Duhon all missed three-pointers. The Cavaliers made the free throws when it mattered, and held on for the 107-102 victory.
“This is one of those games that you can say is a feel good loss. The last two times we played them they blew us out of the building in the first half,” Harrington said. “I think we are showing our growth. Obviously they got to a big lead tonight and we could of went the other way, but we fought back and ended up getting the lead.”
Which was the bigger story: LeBron showcasing his limitless talent by posting a triple-double or the Knicks battling with a division leader and nearly pulling it out at the end? Whatever you think the answer is, one thing is for certain: if the Knicks can play like this against Cleveland, the second best team in the NBA, they’re good enough to sneak into the playoffs as the eighth seed.