No wonder he’s bummed about the NBA schedule: only one Garden party this season.
James scored 33 points in his lone visit to New York, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 100-91 victory over the Knicks on Friday night.
One night after managing just 42 second-half points in an ugly home loss to Chicago, the Cavaliers rang up 40 in the first quarter, leaving New York fans with little left to do besides cheer for the Yankees in attendance and enjoy another mesmerizing performance by James.
“The atmosphere was great,” James said. “Lot of stars in the building and like I said it’s humbling to know that you have guys like the Yankees come out and Jay-Z. It’s really, really humbling.
“You almost feel like you’re a performer sitting on the stage and they’re watching you perform.”
And he sure gives them a show.
The NBA’s MVP added nine assists and eight rebounds, but fell just shy of passing Kobe Bryant(notes) as the active scoring leader at Madison Square Garden. James improved his average to 30.4 points, with Bryant averaging 30.5 in 11 visits, according to STATS LLC.
James had scored 50 or more in two of his last three trips, joining Michael Jordan as the only visiting players with multiple 50-point games at the current building.
“LeBron was obviously LeBron,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “He was spectacular but you kind of overlook his numbers because of who he is.”
“It’s this building,” James said. “This building’s very special.”
New Yorkers are desperate for him to make it his full-time home when he becomes a free agent next summer, but the Knicks continue to offer nothing on the court that would make him consider a switch. As it is, he has as many victories at MSG this season as the Knicks, who fell to 1-5 overall.
David Lee(notes) scored 21 points and former Cavs guard Larry Hughes(notes) had 18 for the Knicks, who played their first nationally televised home game since March 19, 2006, and showed they are still miles from being ready for prime time.
James said he was still sore from a couple of falls in Thursday’s 86-85 home loss, but vowed that wouldn’t prevent him from playing the way he always does. Just to prove it, he then nearly outscored the entire Knicks team in the first quarter.
“They came off a game last night and as the leader of the team, you want to come out and be aggressive. He’s always done it that way,” Hughes said. “I did my job in making him take tough shots and he did his job in making those tough shots.”
James shot 8 of 9 in the period, with his second 3-pointer coming just before the buzzer to give him 19 points and make it 40-21. The Cavs made 16 of 22 shots (73 percent), closing the quarter with a 17-2 run that basically wrapped it up early.
“LeBron’s first eight minutes were ridiculous,” said Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, who expected this from James with Cleveland’s poor performance Thursday and its lone MSG visit Friday. “That’s why he’s the MVP and that’s why New York’s a special place.”
Before the second quarter started, the Yankees fan then went to the sideline and joined the crowd that included his pal Jay-Z in a standing ovation for Alex Rodriguez and six other members of the World Series champions who came onto the court.
James said he was able to congratulate a few of the players during the game.
“I thought if we could have kept the Yankees at halftime a little bit longer, we might have caught them. He was having a good time with those guys,” D’Antoni joked.
James said before the game he wouldn’t think about free agency until July, believing his team could contend for a title this season. The Cavs haven’t been showing that yet, coming to New York with only a 3-3 record.
They looked like championship material against the Knicks, whose defensive effort had to be disheartening to Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason and Larry Johnson, who were in the crowd. They played for the franchise back when defense was their trademark.
The Knicks did cut it to single digits with under 4 minutes to play, but James set up Williams for a basket, then knocked down a turnaround jumper to make it 95-82 with 2:47 remaining.
NOTES: Former Cleveland ace CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira were among the Yankees who came on the floor after the first quarter. The team celebrated its title with a parade through Lower Manhattan earlier Friday. James said he was asleep and didn’t watch. Former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, now a musician who has been nominated for a Latin Grammy, played the national anthem on his guitar, and Reggie Jackson also was in the crowd. … J.J. Hickson made his first start of the season at forward for the Cavaliers, with Anderson Varejao coming off the bench for the first time.