What people will remember from the Cleveland Cavaliers beating the New York Knicks 96-86 is LeBron James ripping his sleeves and playing better for it, but there was the extra step the entire team took in the fourth quarter in order to do away with a pesky opponent.
James finished with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals while shooting just 9-of-23 from the field in the win, but 11 of those points came in the fourth quarter. He played better after tearing the sleeves, but he didn’t shot better. Pre tear he was 4-of-9 from the field and 0-for-2 from the line. He was 5-of-14 after tearing them up, but his defense and aggression levels were taken up a notch, hence the feeling he was actually doing better without them.
It wasn’t just James though. Mo Williams has been doing a very good job instead of Kyrie Irving, although he does try to play a bit too much like Irving at times. Williams scored 22 points on 8-of-19 from the field, but few players have been as compatible with James on the court as Williams, who had his best seasons next to James during the two’s first tenure with the Cavs, failing to go all the way in the playoffs despite having the best record in the league twice.
Overall it was a bad shooting day for the Cavaliers (just 39.8%). It’s not just bad shooting (Kevin Love had just 11 points); the Knicks play pretty good defense. Kristaps Porzingis is troubling to shoot against, with two blocks, just like Carmelo Anthony, teaming up to form a pretty good forward duo next to the rookie. They combined for 28 points through the first three quarters, but had just two in the fourth, as the Cavaliers started playing a little bit more seriously.
It’s interesting to see the Cavaliers in their current form, missing J.R. Smith this time along with Irving and Iman Shumpert. As long as James is healthy, it does feel like they can rotate anyone around him and be OK. When he’s focused, even without accurate shooting, he does so much to help other positions it’s impossible not to think that when fully healthy, this just might be the best team in the NBA, even if the Warriors are making it hard to argue with their case right now.