He didn’t need long to catch up.
James scored 47 points, including 24 straight for Cleveland in the first half, and the Cavaliers held off the Knicks 113-106 for their 11th straight victory.
“It’s something that can’t be explained,” James said of his stunning streak. “It’s a feeling I wish I could be in every game, but it’s not possible. It was a great moment.”
James, who historically has saved some of his best performances for the Knicks, set a franchise record with 35 points in the first half. He finished one point shy of his season high while adding eight rebounds and eight assists.
He needed just 5:29 to score 24 straight—16 in a row to end the first quarter and eight straight to start the second. He closed the first quarter with four 3-pointers in the final two minutes, including a pair from 32 feet in the final 37 seconds. He shot 8 of 11 for the quarter.
James’ final 3 of the first quarter, from the “A” in the Cavaliers’ half-court logo, came at the buzzer. He celebrated by charging toward the fans and throwing open his arms as the sellout crowd inside the Q roared.
With James’ free agency pending this summer and the woeful Knicks dreaming of him in New York blue and orange next season, the Knicks could only stand by and watch James embrace his hometown crowd.
“My God,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He didn’t even come close to missing.”
James did not take part in pregame warmups, nor did he join his teammates on the floor for the national anthem, something he rarely misses. He slid into his chair on the bench just before the pregame introductions, but would only say he had something to take care of before the game.
It certainly didn’t affect his performance.
Despite James’ theatrics, the Cavaliers had to fight to hold on in the fourth quarter.
James countered with a jumper from just inside the 3-point line, then grabbed the rebound following a miss by Al Harrington(notes) and stuck another jumper to make it 113-106 with less than a minute to play.
After the Cavaliers scored 74 points in the first half, New York held Cleveland to just 39 the rest of the way. D’Antoni said he would forget about the first quarter, when the Knicks were outscored by 20, and instead enjoy the comeback.
“I like to sleep at night,” he said. “I’ll take the last three quarters.”
The 24-point scoring stretch isn’t even James’ career best. He scored the final 25 points in Cleveland’s memorable 109-107 double-overtime victory at Detroit in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2007. That performance propelled Cleveland to the NBA finals, someplace James and the Cavaliers, with the NBA’s best record, could be headed again.
“I could really go for 50 a lot of nights if I wanted to,” James said. “But I feel like if I have my teammates involved, it’s ultimately going to help us in the long run.”
Big games against the Knicks are nothing new to James. He had 52 points on Jan. 4, 2009, in New York, when he later had a triple-double taken away after video review. He scored 50 against them March. 5, 2008, and he had 45 at Cleveland on Nov. 2, 2007.
During his only visit to Madison Square Garden this season, James had 19 in the first quarter and the Cavs scored 40 in what became a 100-91 Cleveland victory on Nov. 6.
All of those games were Cleveland victories, but James won’t concede that New York brings out the best in him.
“It’s nothing personal,” he said. “It’s strictly business.”
NOTES: Cleveland’s 11-game winning streak ties Boston and the Lakers for the longest this season. … Walt Wesley previously held Cleveland’s record for points in a half with 34. … Cavaliers PG Mo Williams(notes) began shooting this week as he continues to come back from a shoulder injury. Williams is due to return sometime in early March. … O’Neal greeted Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni in the hallway before the game with a kiss on the cheek. O’Neal played for D’Antoni in Phoenix. … Knicks G Larry Hughes(notes) was scratched with a strained left big toe.