At his best, LeBron James is more of a floor general than scorer. Kyrie Irving feels a lot more comfortable doing that, and the combination of both of their strengths, excelling in a close finish, led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 90-87 win over the New York Knicks on another night Carmelo Anthony would like to forget about.
It wasn’t just because of another loss, as the Knicks fell to 4-16 this season, including 3-8 when playing at the MSG. Anthony was the one who didn’t stay close to James when the Cavs took a lead with 3:35 left in the game off of an inbound pass, with James nailing a very deep 3-pointer. Anthony was also the one who had a chance to tie the game on the last shot, trying to shake off James and taking an unbalanced 3-pointer that hit the rim and bounced away. Anthony missed all of his shots in the fourth quarter, not scoring at all. LeBron James had 7 points in the fourth quarter.
It was also his awful game, taking tough shots and not sinking others he usually makes, scoring only 9 points on 4-of-19 from the field. The problem with Anthony is that a bad shooting game for him doesn’t create more opportunities for others. It drags the team down with him, and still the Knicks almost got away with their second win this season against the Cavaliers thanks to Amare Stoudemire scoring 18 points and Tim Hardaway Jr. adding 18 off the bench.
Irving had himself one of those special games that players tend to have at the Madison Square Garden, scoring 37 points on 12-of-18 from the field and 10-of-11 from the line. He did hit from beyond the arc three times, but Irving felt very comfortable attacking the rim at will, including with some impressive and acrobatic layups. The last of them gave the Cavaliers their final points and 3-point lead, dribbling past Iman Shumpert and shooting a high lob over Stoudemire with his weak hand. He scored 12 points on isolation plays, almost triple his season average of 4.1.
After James gave the Cavaliers the lead with his big 3-pointer, a great double team by him and Irving and Pablo Prigioni gave James an easy dunk, reaching 19 points on the day in which he also had five rebounds and 12 assists. It wasn’t a complete game from James offensively, shooting 7-of-17 from the field, but he played some great defense for most of the night, making up for his unusual low efficiency on offense.
Kevin Love was having one of those games in which he disappears for long minutes from the frame, scoring only 11 points to go with his 11 rebounds, not making a single 3-pointer. He’s had too many of those this season, and although there was no other dominant scorer besides James and Irving, the Knicks turning the ball over 21 times helped out walk away with the road win and a fifth consecutive win for Cleveland, all coming against Eastern teams.
So what’s changed for the Cavaliers? First off, their record is actually better than the Heat’s record through 17 games in James’ first season with Miami. An important thing has been James distributing the ball. Over the last five games, his scoring hasn’t really changed (24.4 points compared to 24.7 before), while his assists going up to 9.6 from 6.8, and being the setup man for 43.2% of his teammates field goals when he’s on the floor, a major boost from the first 12 games.
For the Knicks, it’s a bit of a deeper look into what’s wrong with them. It’s probably a problem created years back when this team was assembled. No one except maybe them expected any success this season, but aside from Carmelo Anthony, they don’t have a single player who would be in a lineup of a playoff bound team. With that kind of depth and quality issues, the best they can do on a day with Anthony playing so badly is dragging the Cavaliers down to their level but still losing.