The Cleveland Cavaliers won’t be making the playoffs this season, but with a 106-100 win they might have made sure that the New York Knicks don’t either, snapping the eight game winning streak as Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters made it seem like Kyrie Irving wasn’t even missing.
The new backcourt for the Cavs while Irving is out injured seems to be doing just fine, individually at least. The All-Star’s injury might have killed their chances of making up for lost ground, with the Knicks still ahead of them and the Hawks losing but not quite enough to lose that 8th spot, but it gives Waiters and Jack minutes and touches they don’t normally have.
All of the Knicks’ impressive scoring and offense from the last couple of weeks wasn’t close to enough as they couldn’t contain Jack, scoring 31 points and enjoying his best game since becoming a Cavs player. Waiters added 22 points as the Knicks’ defense returned to being bad, filled with holes and lazy, while their offense, especially in the second half, couldn’t make up for all those mistakes.
The Knicks held a 17-point lead at some point, and went into the locker rooms at halftime with a 17 point lead after scoring 61 points in the first half. For some reason, instead of pushing the Cavs over the edge they dumbed down their offense to a point in which they did nothing but shoot 3’s, and stop looking for any kind of open shot. Raymond Felton and everyone else trying to guard the scorching Jack failed at almost every opportunity, while the team’s best perimeter defender, Iman Shumpert, wasn’t even playing.
But it wasn’t just Jack that made the Knicks look bad. Cleveland shot 60.9% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. Their ball movement is better without Irving hogging the ball, even though it hasn’t translated to too many wins. Jack added 10 assists to his point haul, getting his hands on the ball basically at the beginning of every play, while Cleveland spread the floor very well against a Knicks team that never looks to eager to follow through on defensive designs.
Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks with 32 points, but didn’t have anyone flaming up next to him. The Knicks shot 45.5% from the field, but their second half performance was abysmal on both ends of the floor. It was their offense that helped them build this winning streak, but once it stalled there was no hope from their lazy and sometimes embarrassing defensive stands to save them.
Things aren’t lost. The Hawks lost as well, which means the Knicks are only three games behind them. The numbers suggest the playoff race is still wide open, even for the Cavs, but they probably know, especially when it’s not up to them, that the chances are slim. The Knicks still believe. The whole concept of this basketball franchise is aiming for things that are usually out of reach, but with this kind of defense and a bit tougher opposition coming very soon, their winning streak might turn out to be only an illusion, nothing more.