Cavaliers smacked by Knicks 101-91
BY EDDIE DILWORTH
CAVS BEAT WRITER
The Cleveland Cavaliers began their final week of the season Friday night with just four games remaining on their schedule. Friday's opponent, however, the New York Knicks, is riding Carmelo Anthony's hot hand into the playoffs.
Anthony currently leads the NBA in scoring and is on pace to capture his first scoring title, which would dethrone the reigning 3-time scoring champion, Kevin Durant. Anthony's hot hand during his previous six games has moved beyond scorching.
Prior to the contest versus Cleveland, Anthony had scored exactly 36 points in each of his last three games. Those three performances immediately followed two 40-point outputs and a 50-point showing in Miami against the Heat on April 2. Anthony continued to blaze Friday, torching Cleveland for 31 points and 14 rebounds en route to a 101-91 victory for his Knicks. New York also completed a 3-0 sweep of the Cavs this season.
"Coming out we wanted to make an emphasis on pushing the ball and being more aggressive," Irving said. "I feel like some of the opportunities we all had as a team, we didn't exploit. Going forward, we just have to pay attention to our game plan…Our opportunities were there. We just didn't take advantage of them."
When Anthony knocked-down a 16-foot jump shot just before the buzzer sounded the end of the third quarter, the Knicks took a 75-64 lead into the fourth quarter. Less than four minutes into the fourth quarter, Cleveland trailed 90-70 and the contest was out of reach.
The Knicks opened the fourth quarter on a 15-6 run the Cavs could not recover from. New York forward Chris Copeland opened the period with a wide open layup from Jason Kidd. After Knicks guard J.R. Smith converted a layup as he was fouled with 8:19 remaining in the game, New York secured the 90-70 lead when Smith added the free throw. The Cavs never came close to New York again.
"I thought we played hard, had open shots that we just couldn't knock down, and that's what that team does," Scott said. "They make shots and they make them in bunches it seems like."
Irving did all he could to match Anthony's scoring output, but it wasn't enough to get the Cavs over the hump. The second-year guard finished with 31 points, five rebounds and six assists. Tristan Thompson added 15 points and 11 rebounds to the Cavs effort, but Anthony had some significant help of his own.
While the Cavs had to worry about Anthony and his scoring prowess, Smith has been playing the best basketball of his career. Over his 11 games prior to Cleveland, Smith averaged 24.9 points. Against Cleveland, Smith could not be contained. The New York shooting guard totaled 31 points on 13-of-16 shooting with five rebounds.
"Both of those guys are just playing great basketball and making shots," Scott said. "J.R. tonight was fantastic at just creating space for himself and just hitting everything pretty much that he shot from 17-25 feet it seemed like."
Before his matchup with Cleveland, Anthony averaged 39.8 points per game in his previous six contests. The Knicks superstar had already broken a franchise record with at least 35 points in six straight games, and his scorching hand continued to sizzle in the first half.
Anthony touched-up Cleveland for 17 points and seven rebounds in the first half alone. After 11 first quarter points, Anthony scored six points at the end of the first half that helped New York secure a healthy lead. The Knicks forward drained a 13-foot turnaround jumper that gave New York its largest lead of the first half, 46-32 with 3:57 remaining in the second quarter. Minutes later, Anthony put in New York's final bucket of the half, a layup that gave New York a 52-41 lead with 12 seconds remaining until halftime.
Irving closed the first half with two free throws, but Anthony's scoring spree helped New York secure a 52-43 lead at the half. New York may have been eager for a matchup with Cleveland after their 13-game winning streak was snapped the night before in Chicago.
"He's (Anthony) just playing great basketball," Scott said. "I think most guys at this time, especially great players, they start gearing up. Plus, 13 straight until last night. Not only he was playing well, J.R.'s playing well. They're playing well as a team and I think they're just gearing up.
"Obviously, right now he has not only playoffs in mind, but probably a scoring title as well."
Cavs rookie guard Dion Waiters missed the matchup with New York as Scott said Waiters was dealing with a family matter before the game. While the Cavs have been depleted all season, the Knicks are dealing with a slew of injuries themselves.
The Knicks frontcourt is in shambles. Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Amar'e Stoudemire, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby all missed the game with various injuries. Despite the exodus, New York swept Cleveland for the first time since winning the 1993-94 series 4-0.
The Cavs head to Philadelphia for a matchup with the 76ers Sunday afternoon.