Entering Sunday’s fourth and final meeting between the Knicks and Cavs, each teams could count in its disfavor a vexing drought: While the orange and blue had yet to best the lowly ‘Liers in 11 games dating back to 2009, Cleveland entered the game 0-11 on Sundays this season.
Something had to give. As it turns out, the Cavs were in a decidedly giving mood, committing 22 turnovers in helping the Knicks’ coast to a 123-107 victory.
Coupled with Charlotte’s loss to Washington, the win sealed the Knicks’ first playoff berth in 7 years, a drought matched in that stretch only by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Playing their first game with more than a day’s rest since the All-Star break, the Knicks looked as rejuvenated as they were bent on vengeance early on, going up by as many as 22 in the first half.
Indeed, to anyone who watched, the first 20 minutes must have seemed like a bizarre photo negative; whereas their typical MO has been to spot a sizable early lead, only to claw back with varying degrees of success, this time it was the Knicks who watched their early lights-out shooting fade down the first half stretch.
But the Cavs never quite closed the gap, as the Knicks pulled off another seldom-seen feat in outscoring Cleveland 30-19 in a convincing fourth quarter.
Chauncey Billups seemed particularly invigorated by the three-day sabbatical, pacing the Knicks out of the gate with 17 first quarter points on 6-6 shooting before finishing with 23, seven assists and a sparkling 79% TS%.
With both Stat (28 points with a TS% of 55%) and Melo (25 points and a TS% of 57%) picking up Chauncey’s second half slack, the Knicks’ Big Tree each tallied 20 for the second consecutive game.
Meanwhile, Toney Douglas, Shawne Williams and Bill Walker provided the offensive spark off the bench, combining for 32 points on 7-11 shooting from deep. Overall the Knicks shot 42% from downtown, helping keep at bay a Cavs team that logged an overall eFG% of 59%.
Thankfully, the Cavs seemed equally determined to keep themselves at bay, matching their 22 turnovers with poor free-throw shooting (14-24) and a stagnant fourth quarter in which they shot just 6-18 from the floor.
Save for a few requisite lapses and another Knicks Middling Opponent Hall of Fame (KMOHOF) performance from J.J. Hickson (averaging 23 a game in his last three against New York), the Knicks were at least able to get stops when they needed them – a skill they’ll doubtless need to hone to survive any of their possible first round matchups.
Postseason implications aside, last night’s win may have provided little more than a much-needed sigh of relief for the Knick faithful, for whom the Lebron-less Cavs had provided so many sobering wakeup calls during what was supposed to be a season-long party march to the playoffs.
But as the final seconds ticked down and the league scoreboard showed the Wizards closing in on a win in Charlotte, the moment briefly morphed into something much bigger: the relief of a seven-year itch as painful and as confounding as any in sports over the last decade.
Whatever happens next, one thing’s for sure: In the midst of what’s often felt like a sports marriage mired in misery, a playoff dalliance with this team is one fling Knicks fans needn’t be ashamed about.