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LeBron James said Monday that he had no interest in a face-to-face conversation with New York Knicks team president Phil Jackson to hash out their differences over Jackson using the term “posse” to refer to James’ friends and business partners. No matter. Come Wednesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar let his game speak loudly enough for everyone to hear, using his titanic talents not to put the controversy to rest, but rather to put Jackson’s Knicks to bed nice and early.
The Cavs never trailed at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, leading bell to bell in a 126-94 victory during which the defending NBA champs barely seemed to break a sweat. James led the way, scoring 25 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field and a 10-for-14 mark at the foul line to go with seven assists, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal:
James fell short of his sterling career average of 28.5 points per game as a visitor at the World’s Most Famous Arena, but that’s only because he spent the entire fourth quarter in a warm-up shirt on the Cavalier bench. By putting Cleveland up 27 entering the final frame, the King ensured his services wouldn’t be needed over the final 12 minutes, affording him the chance to engage in more difficult pursuits … like the Water Bottle Challenge:
More fun than the actual game pic.twitter.com/S8Rx7Yqsm3
— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) December 8, 2016
Kyrie Irving added 28 points (9-for-17 from the floor, 4-for-6 from 3-point range, 6-for-6 from the foul line) with six assists and two rebounds for the Cavs, who have now won consecutive games since the three-game slide that led James to proclaim the “honeymoon stage” officially over after Cleveland’s victory in June’s 2016 NBA Finals. Kevin Love chipped in 21 points, while dirty-work-loving center Tristan Thompson dominated the glass with 20 rebounds, extending Cleveland possessions on one end and fueling a transition game that led to a 23-8 edge in fast-break points.
Coming off a comfortable Tuesday victory over the Miami Heat that extended their winning streak to four, and heading back to the friendly confines of MSG, where they were 9-3 on the season, the Knicks seemed eager to test their mettle against the team that’s dominated the East for the past two years:
A photo posted by Ball Don't Lie (@yahooballdontlie) on Dec 7, 2016 at 11:02am PST
From the game’s opening minutes, though, Cleveland looked intent on making sure the Knicks — who, in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, were playing without starting point guard Derrick Rose, who was sidelined after suffering back spasms in the win over Miami — knew they didn’t measure up.
Cleveland sought to push the pace off every New York misfire and miscue, eager to capitalize on the Knicks’ disorganized transition defense to generate layups, dunks, free throws or wide-open perimeter looks. Love proved the primary beneficiary of that early plan of attack, pouring in 16 first-quarter points on 5-for-9 shooting, including three 3-pointers, to stake the Cavs to a double-digit lead six minutes into the contest.
James, Irving and Love outscored the Knicks 33-26 in the first quarter by themselves, and save for a pair of brief flurries at the beginning of the second quarter and near its end that got the lead down to nine, the Cavs never really let the Knicks get within arm’s reach. Six straight Cleveland points sent New York into intermission down 15, and the Cavs put the hammer down on the other side of the break, opening the third with a 20-6 run fueled by opportunistic offense, stifling defense and second-chance scoring to put the game out of reach.
Jennings led New York with 16 points, four rebounds and three assists. Stars Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis were held in check, combining for just 20 points on 24 shots for the Knicks, who seemed to be drawing dead from the jump on the second night of a back-to-back against a clearly superior team led by an all-world talent who maybe, just maybe, had a little bit more motivation than usual thanks to the Zen Master’s ill-considered decision to double-down on his unfortunate diction.
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