Having LeBron James means that you are never fully out of a basketball game. This is something that we have seen time and time again throughout his career. But every time his team is down late in a game, whether it was during either of his stints in Cleveland or his time spent in Miami, the team LeBron is on has a trump card that the other generally cannot match.
It doesn’t get pulled out all the time, but on Tuesday night, the Knicks prodded LeBron and the Cavaliers ultimately responded. Blaming New York for wanting to send a message is understandable — the last few days of chatter regarding the Knicks passing on Dennis Smith Jr. for Frank Ntilikina has been kind of odd, even if LeBron swore it was a shot at Phil Jackson over everything else, plus the Knicks have been a surprise in the Eastern Conference this season and had the opportunity to show why against the three-time defending conference champs.
The Knicks even tried to get physical with LeBron in a way that seemed very, very calculated. Both Ntilikina and Enes Kanter tried to provoke LeBron, but it didn’t lead to a fight or anything. The New York faithful in Madison Square Garden showered him with boos all game. The Knicks still managed to get under his skin to an extent, as he picked up a technical and the entire Cavaliers team just seemed off for three quarters.
Basketball is about what team is the best over four quarters, though, and in the game’s final frame, LeBron decided to stop playing around. And a funny thing happens when he’s locked in: Everyone on the Cavs seems to have a little more swagger, and every shot goes in a little more easily, and the defense gets ramped up to a level that it hasn’t really been at this season.
When the fourth quarter started, New York held a 76-61 lead. Cleveland scored 61 points through three quarters, which for an offense as prolific as the one the Cavaliers boast is insane. At most, Cleveland trailed by as many as 23 points. Then, the basketball version of this happened.
The Cavs outscored the Knicks in the fourth quarter, 43-25. LeBron scored or assisted on 29 of those. Cleveland walked out with a 104-101 win, moving the team to 7-7 on the season. The Cavs haven’t been great at the start of the season, but this feels like the kind of game that could be something of an early-season turning point.
If it’s not, then it’s our latest reminder of how LeBron is capable of doing this stuff every now and then. He played 36 minutes and had 23 points (on 7-for-14 shooting), 12 assists, nine rebounds, and three blocks. He was also locked in defensively, which led to this tremendous tweet.
And when the game needed to be won, the ball was in LeBron’s hands. The reason he’s so dangerous in these situations is he’s usually able to find a wide open teammate for a game winning shot, but on Monday night, he called game.
We are 14 games into the regular season for the Cavaliers, and there’s about a 10 million percent chance that LeBron will have a more impressive game than this one. This game still felt important, and looked like one of those classic LeBron games where he decides he’s done with playing around and imposes his will on an opponent. It was as fun as ever, and if the basketball gods are kind, they’ll give us a Cavs-Knicks series at some point in the playoffs, because getting somewhere between four and seven games between these two teams in the postseason would be incredible.