CLEVELAND – There was a moment early in the fourth quarter when the Cavaliers cut the deficit to 6 points, when the direction of the game felt like a Knicks collapse was inevitable.
Only it never happened Sunday. The Knicks hit the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs with a swift counterpunch, and an upset was consummated with a 9-0 run that eventually sent LeBron James to the bench for garbage-time observation.
The Knicks didn’t just beat the Cavaliers, 114-95, on Sunday. They pounded them, dominated them. They snapped a 10-game losing streak against Cleveland with James being thoroughly outplayed by Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr.
Who saw that coming?
“It’s nice to finally beat the Cavs for the first time in my career,” said Porzingis, who scored 32 points. “It’s just another game but hopefully it can be in the playoffs and that’s when it really matters.”
The Cavaliers (3-4) are a mess in their post-Kyrie Irving era, now losers of four of their last five games – all against teams in the lottery last season. There was hope they’d be stimulated by the return of Derrick Rose, who started Sunday against his former team following a four-game absence because of a sprained ankle.
If anything, the Knicks were inspired.
James, playing in the second night of a back-to-back, appeared exhausted and was pulled midway through the first quarter. He never regained his energy despite playing 39 minutes, and his final line was pedestrian by The King’s standards – 16 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four turnovers. James just didn’t have much bounce.
“What month is it again, October?” he said. “I’m not about to go crazy about this right now.”
Hardaway Jr., meanwhile, dropped 24 of his 34 points in the first half, representing his best performance by far in his Knicks rebirth.
Until Sunday, it was a struggle for the $72 million man.
“We all tell him to calm down and let the game come to him. He’s pushing it a little bit right now,” Knicks president Steve Mills said before Hardaway Jr. hit 11 of his 19 shots, including 5-for-10 from beyond the arc. “But the one thing we’re not worried about is his shots are going to start falling. The guy can shoot and make shots. That’s where he’s struggling the most right now. I think it’s the pressure of him wanting to be a leader of the team and wanting to do well. I think that will calm down for him and that will get better.”
Porzingis finished with 32 points and 12 boards, showing off his improved moves in the post. He became the first Knick to ever at least 30 points in four of the first five games of the season.
“The game looks like it’s slowing down for him,” Jeff Hornacek said. “He’s taking his time, they’re putting guys on him, he knows he can shoot over them.”
With Porzingis scoring eight points in the final four minutes, the Knicks led by as many as 21 after the Cavs cut the lead to 94-88 with 8:20 remaining.
“We could’ve folded against a veteran team like that,” Hornacek said. “But they came back and made some big shots.”
Just last week, the Knicks were the only winless team in the NBA and complaining about the lack of commitment to the game plan. Today, they’re riding a two-game winning streak into Monday’s game vs. the Nuggets and feeling a lot better about themselves.