The Cleveland Cavaliers (15-5) are a better basketball team than the New York Knicks (12-10), and they showed just that Wednesday night in their 126-94 victory in Madison Square Garden.
The Cavs were in control of the game pretty much from the jump Wednesday. They led 36-26 after the first quarter thanks in large part to 16 early points from forward Kevin Love, who started the game by going 5-9 from the field. Cleveland held a double digit lead for much of the first half, though the Knicks were able to cut it to lead to 51-42 near the five-minute mark of the second quarter.
The Cavs lead hung around 9 points for most of the remainder of the half until James got loose for a vicious one-handed tomahawk slam and a spinning, fast break layup to push Cleveland’s lead to 63-48 just before halftime. The Cavs were at their best in the first half when they dictated the tempo of the game by getting out on the break. As they usually do, things started at the defensive end for the Cavs, as they had six steals and forced eight total turnovers in the first half, which led to 18 fast break points for Cleveland.
It seemed as though the Cavs were ready to put the Knicks away early in the second half, and they wasted little time doing so. Love opened the half with a 3-pointer off a DeAndre Liggins assist. Then after Irving drilled a 3-pointer and fed LeBron on an alley-oop, Cleveland led 71-48.
The Big Three were too much for the Knicks to handle, as Love, Irving and James combined for 74 points. Irving was exceptional, scoring 28 points on 9-17 shooting. James was even more efficient, putting up 25 points on 7-10 shooting. Love, who finished with 21 points, cooled off after his hot first quarter, but it was largely inconsequential because just about everyone else had it going for the Cavs. The team as a whole shot 48.8 percent from the field and a scorching 55 percent from 3-point range.
Even though the Irving-to-James oop came early in the second half, it served as the punctuation mark for the game, as Cleveland coasted to a victory after that. Much like the first half, the major reason for the Cavs dominance in the second half was their strong defensive effort. The Cavaliers held the Knicks to just 17 points in the third quarter. Cleveland held New York to 40.2 percent shooting from the field and 35.5 percent from 3-point range Wednesday night.
In addition to his stellar offensive performance Wednesday, LeBron put together a strong defensive outing as well. James held Carmelo Anthony to just eight points on an extremely un-Melo-like nine shot attempts.
Liggins, who started in place of the injured J.R. Smith, also turned in a solid defensive effort Wednesday night, though that is to be expected of him. However, he was also able to knock down a pair of 3s, which was a pleasant surprise. If Liggins continues to knock down open shot opportunities as he did Wednesday, he could potentially end up playing himself into some consistent time in the rotation for Cleveland.
The Cavs will be back in action Friday when they host the Miami Heat in Cleveland.