Cavaliers hold on to beat hapless Knicks 107-104
BY STONE LEXINGTON
CAVALIERS BEAT WRITER
(CLEVELAND, OH) - Keep your eye on the prize — Zion Williamson.

The Duke freshman phenom will most likely be the No. 1 overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft, and several teams are “battling” for the right to draft him. Those teams include the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks, both of which own a record among the bottom three teams in the league.

The Cavs hosted the Knicks on Monday night in a matchup that could have critical implications on the order in June’s draft. And after nearly blowing a 17-point lead against New York, the Cavs hung on for a 107-104 win in Quicken Loans Arena on Monday. Meanwhile, New York lost a franchise-record 17th straight game.

“They played I think the whole second half and fourth quarter in zone,” Cavs guard Jordan Clarkson said. “That’s the first time I’ve seen that in a while, especially in the last two minutes. As a team, I think we just kind of stuck together and fought it out.”

The Cavs had a solid first half against a Knicks team that is at its lowest point in the season. New York recently traded franchise player Kristaps Porzingis and put all of their eggs in this summer’s free agency basket. Cleveland jumped on the Knicks and led 30-22 when the first quarter ended, and the Cavs only extended their lead in the second half.

The Knicks never led in the game and when Cavs point guard Collin Sexton drained a floater plus the foul with 5:36 to play until halftime, Cleveland secured its largest lead to that point at 48-36. The Cavs led 63-48 at the half behind three double-figure outputs from Sexton, Kevin Love and Marquese Chriss.

The Cavs extended their lead to as many as 17 points early in the third quarter, but the Knicks wouldn’t go down without a fight. When New York guard Dennis Smith Jr. drained a jumper with 7:06 to play in the third, the Knicks had crawled within 10 points, 71-61. When Knicks guard Alonzo Trier converted 1-of-2 free throws four minutes later, New York was within five, 76-71.

New York refused to go away, as they found themselves trailing 105-98 with a little more than three minutes remaining in the game. Moments later, palms got sweaty inside The Q, as Knicks center Luke Kornet drained back-to-back three-pointers to bring New York within a point, 105-104, with just under a minute to play. After two Sexton free throws, the Knicks, though, failed to tie the game on the final possession.

Six Cavaliers finished with double-figures in scoring against New York, including Sexton, who finished with a team-high 20 points. Sexton entered the day having scored in double-figures 48 times this season, which tied with Dallas Mavericks super rookie Luka Doncic for the most among all first-year players.

Against New York, Cavs forward Larry Nance Jr. tallied a career-best sixth straight double-double with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Matthew Dellavedova totaled 12 points, three rebounds and six assists, while Clarkson chipped-in 15 points and six rebounds.

The Cavs were without Cedi Osman (right ankle sprain), Tristan Thompson (left foot soreness) and Ante Zizic (low back soreness), but injuries have been nothing new for the team this season. Love, who has missed 51 games and underwent left foot surgery this season, played in only the first half on Monday as he continues to regain familiarity with the court. In 16 minutes against New York, Love looked very strong, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds. Drew wouldn’t commit to Love playing on Wednesday when the Cavs host the Brooklyn Nets.

“He’s still being closely monitored as far as his time that’s going to be spent on the floor,” Cavs head coach Larry Drew said. “As far as Wednesday (against the Nets), we’re just going to see how he is after tonight’s game.”

Although he hasn’t played NBA-level basketball in several months, Love is an All-Star-caliber player, who improves any team he is on. The Cavs, however, are in a position where they have to keep one eye on June’s draft.

There’s no guarantee that Williamson will be the first player taken off the board in June, but it’s also not a stretch to call him the most hyped prospect since LeBron James. Cavs fans know how well drafting James worked out.
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​POSTED 02/11/2019 22:11
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