Knicks 103, Cavaliers 102: "That was almost a disaster".

Elsa

The Cavs made it scary, but the Knicks pulled out a narrow victory without Carmelo Anthony to stay undefeated at home.

So, uh, that Kyrie Irving kid might have a future in this here basketball league. And I can appreciate that right now because the Cavaliers' shocking one-man run fell juuuuuust short. Otherwise I'd have already tearfully drop-kicked my laptop into the street.

But yeah, all night long, Irving's career-best scoring performance prevented the Carmelo Anthony-less Knicks from disposing of the Cavs. And when the Knicks finally seemed to have the game in hand, Irving drilled a series of contested shots that, combined with a couple uncharacteristic split free throws by J.R. Smith and Steve Novak, ended up pulling the Cavs within two. With a second remaining, Smith tried to draw a charge on a driving Anderson Varejao but got called for a blocking foul. Varejao made the first, then-- perhaps iced a bit by a last-second Mike Woodson substitution-- rimmed out the second, leaving the Knicks victorious. Like Lord Smackington, New York very nearly had a disastrous collapse, but the missed free throw undermined all of Irving's heroic work. Poor Cavs.

Aside from that miss, how did the Knicks overcome Irving's effervescent night and some uncharacteristically effective team offense from the rest of the Cavs? Well, their offense without Melo remained pretty sharp, or at least sharp enough. Early on, Raymond Felton chugged through the space granted to him for pull-up jumpers and piercing drives to the rim and Chris Copeland gave the first unit some jumpers as well. As the game progressed, New York kept running and rerunning that pick-and-roll every time down the floor. When the Cleveland D collapsed, the ball flitted out and around the perimeter to find open shooters.

In the second half, New York appeared to run more sets, including some of those hand-offs, double hand-offs, and triple-picks we've come to know and love. Obeying what I imagine was a loud, fuzzy halftime directive from Coach Woodson, the Knicks made a point of getting Tyson Chandler his touches. Felton, Smith, and Jason Kidd weaved around picks and through the lane to create space for Chandler and feed him lofty lobs and precise bounce set-ups. The large gentleman tomahawked and free-threw his way to 21 second half points after scoring just two in the first quarter and sitting the whole second quarter due to foul trouble. A fourth quarter highlighted by plenty of Kidd-Chandler connections and some crucial hustle from the both of 'em gave the Knicks enough of an edge to withstand Irving's frightful spurt.

And I didn't think the defense was so bad. Irving is pretty much impossible to contain, and even when Felton, Kidd, or Smith did mark him well, he hit difficult jumpers. Tyson Chandler's help was mostly on time, and the team as a whole did a wonderful job of denying Cleveland their presumed massive advantage on the glass. As I hoped they would, the guards hung back to help corral defensive caroms, holding the Cavs to a relatively harmless nine offensive rebounds (The Knicks had fifteen. Praise be to the Tyson Tap-out). There were breakdowns, sure, but the Cavs also hit a handful of difficult shots and, ya know, Kyrie. So yeah, those are my excuses and counters for the Knicks' defense allowing a pretty awful offensive team to put up decent numbers. Mostly just Kyrie.

A few quick individual notes:

- Felton played a pretty nice game. He got to the rim quite a bit early, then navigated and manipulated space in the paint to feed Chandler late. One thing we talked about at a couple points: I have no problem with Felton shooting pull-up jumpers when opposing guards drop beneath picks, but I think he'd have a much easier time if he squared up and stepped into those shots instead of fading. I hope Dave Hopla's in his ear about this. I'd also like to see Felton eschew some of these long twos for either threes or penetration, but I understand he's working with the space given to him to some extent. Anyway, nice game. Felton got torched by Irving, but got some of his own the other way, too.

- Even putting aside all those superb finishes and drawn fouls (8-8 in the second half!), Tyson Chandler was and is a monster. Those tap-outs were so debilitating, and so were a couple instances of terrific help defense and extra effort to track down loose balls in the fourth quarter. I feared Anderson Varejao even more than I feared Irving going into this one (what a gump I am), but Tyson held him to a pretty quiet 9 points and 8 rebounds.

- What a bizarre night for Jason Kidd. If not for a random-ass missed lay-up late in the game, he would have approached the NBA record for most three-point attempts without a two-pointer and done so in infamous fashion. He got good, open looks off the catch all night, but hit just three of THIRTEEN attempts from behind the arc. I have no explanation for it. Of course, Kidd being Kidd, those ample misses were offset by six defensive rebounds and masterful management of the offense down the stretch. Two of those made threes came in the fourth as well. The man is good at sports, even when he's not.

- Cool little stat: Kidd and Felton each had two blocks. (And Steve Novak and Kurt Thomas each had one, which I guess is equally improbable.)

- Kidd and Felton each spent some time playing alongside Pablo Prigioni as well. I didn't notice anything special from those particular two-point-guard lineups, but Pablo did contribute a couple nice pick-and-roll feeds to Kurt Thomas and two of his signature backcourt sneak-steals.

- Chris Copeland played just 19 minutes in his career start, but made those minutes count. He cooked a nice little cup of soup off the catch, drilling twos and threes in the corners to go 4-5 overall. He did get kinda battered around the rim by Tristan Thompson, but I'd say it was a generally positive performance.

- Typically quiet Ronnie Brewer game: A jumper, a drive-and-kick, some good defense and some bad defense, and a lot of time spent sitting.

- Steve Novak hit his threes (4-7) and rebounded (five), but got burned pretty badly on a half dozen or so defensive plays. One thing I noticed: The Knicks ran a couple consecutive sets in which Kidd posted up Daniel "The Breast" Gibson and Novak curled over a screen to the strong side to attempt a three on the move. Didn't work, but cool set. The Cavs announcers (I was stuck with the Cleveland feed) spoke ill of Novak's ability to shoot without his feet set, but fuck 'em.

- Speaking of which: Austin Carr after a Novak three: "Someone needs to hit him on the head or something!".

- Oh, and one of Novak's threes hit the side of the backboard, which can only mean there was voodoo at work.

- The Cleveland announcers also marveled at Clyde's pea-green suit and reflected on his dominance as a player back in the day.

- There are a lot more car dealership commercials with Joe Haden in them in Cleveland than there are in New York.

- Alonzo Gee pretty much just drives directly through people to get his baskets. Tyler Zeller does not look at the basket when he shoots.

- Speaking of Zeller and looking and shooting: Masked Cavaliers (Zeller, Irving, Thompson) shot 24-35 from the field. Strap some masks on the rest of 'em and you've got a dominant offense.

- J.R. Smith regressed a bit after breaking out of his slump, shooting just 6-20 and giving away a couple silly, unforced dribbling turnovers. I did enjoy his footwork to get to the rim a couple times, including a nice, patient drop step from a back-down and a gorgeous Euro step in transition.

- Kurt Thomas played a few solid defensive possessions peppered throughout a mostly sedentary defensive performance. He also rolled nicely to the rim and drew fouls, but missed what should have been easy lay-ins (even with contact) off pick-and-roll feeds. Not a bad contribution to the short-handed lineup overall, I suppose.

So, they survived. Against a dominant offensive outing and without the man they employ to match such outings, the Knicks survived. As a few of you mentioned, this did not feel like the kind of game the Knicks would have survived in the past. A win is a win, even if a bad, short-handed team missing a last-second free throw is what seals you that win. New York is now 10-0 at home with the Rockets paying the Garden a visit this coming Monday. Good night, friends.


Final - 12.15.2012 1 2 3 4 Total
Cleveland Cavaliers 28 17 28 29 102
New York Knicks 27 21 30 25 103

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