Andres Kudacki/Associated Press
LeBron James was not leaving Madison Square Garden without a win Monday.
James drilled a go-ahead three-pointer in the final two minutes to put his Cleveland Cavaliers up for good and completed a dramatic comeback to clinch the 104-101 victory over the New York Knicks. The Knicks led by 23 points in the second half, but James’ brilliance on both ends of the floor was too much for the home team to handle.
The four-time MVP finished with 23 points, 12 assists, nine rebounds and three blocks while locking down Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis for the majority of the fourth quarter as the Cavaliers came charging back.
While James did much of the heavy lifting on offense, it was his defense that cleared the way for the comeback.
He wouldn’t let his team fade down the stretch despite the daunting deficit and locked down Porzingis in one-on-one situations for multiple possessions. The 7’3″ big man struggled to even move James on the blocks even with his significant height advantage, and the result was multiple forced shots and empty possessions.
Kyle Korver helped James take advantage by pouring in 21 points off the bench and connecting on five three-pointers. Dwyane Wade added 15 points and Jae Crowder scored 13, while the Cavaliers overcame 21 turnovers and 39.8 percent shooting from the field.
Porzingis still managed 20 points and seven boards, but his failure to make an impact with James guarding him—as well as two critical missed free throws down the stretch with his team nursing a three-point lead—did the Knicks in Monday.
Tim Hardaway Jr. impressed with 28 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while Enes Kanter notched a double-double with 20 points and 16 boards.
The final score took a backseat, however, given the scuffle that took place during the final minute of the first quarter. James flushed home a dunk and didn’t get out of Frank Ntilikina’s way, which led to some shoving between the two before Kanter arrived and started jawing with the Cavs star:
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Things getting chippy between LeBron and the Knicks 👀 https://t.co/zAhQt6QSvz
The apparent bad blood was the continuation of notable headlines involving James and the Knicks leading up to Monday’s contest.
According to Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com, James said the Knicks should have drafted point guard Dennis Smith Jr.—whom the Dallas Mavericks selected one pick after New York took Ntilikina.
Kanter then defended his point guard on social media:
Enes Kanter @Enes_Kanter
Nope!! We love what we got… Thanks!!! https://t.co/eI6nTpghmQ
However, James clarified he wasn’t criticizing Ntilikina, per Ian Begley of ESPN, noting he needed to make himself clear for “people who just live in the box and for Enes Kanter who’s always got something to say.”
The jawing between Kanter and James temporarily energized both the Knicks and the crowd, as the home team went on a 15-0 run in the second quarter and took a 13-point lead into halftime.
It looked over by the fourth quarter, but James appeared to play with a chip on his shoulder and ended the Knicks’ hopes.
Cleveland will look to establish sustained momentum Wednesday when it finishes its four-game road trip against the Charlotte Hornets, while the Knicks will attempt to turn things around the same day against the Utah Jazz.