The Knicks entered Wednesday night's game at Madison Square Garden healthy and having just practiced for the first time in weeks, the Cavaliers short-handed and having just suffered a debilitating loss to the Celtics. Of course, this being the NBA/lockout season/Knicks, New York looked anemic and disjointed to open their meeting while the Cavs, even without Anderson Varejao, hummed along to a double-digit first half lead. A perfect about-face in the second half, though, launched the Knicks ahead and to a 120-103 victory in their first game back.
The evening began with the Cavs stepping into the Garden and promptly dismantling the place. Spurred by the drives of the unreasonably polished Kyrie Irving, Cleveland pulled apart the flimsy Knick defense to create endless open shots. Irving repeatedly bypassed Jeremy Lin, hooked Tyson Chandler, then pierced late-arriving help with an entry pass to a big man, a kick to Antawn Jamison or Daniel Gibson, or a gliding shot at the basket. On their own end of the floor, Lin and the Knicks worked to find open shots, but neglected many opportunities and bungled the others. New York failed to force turnovers for easy transition baskets and missed every open three. They trailed by as much as 17 and faced a 12-point deficit at halftime.
Something turned at the half. Exactly what flipped the Knicks is anyone's guess (one can't help but wonder), but the reverse of course was unmistakable. New York toppled the Cleveland lead and built one of their own in no time. The Cavs offered little resistance, surrendering eight turnovers, many of them unforced. The Knicks did plenty of work themselves, though. The starting unit raised its defensive pressure and fed an increasingly effective Carmelo Anthony (a team-leading 22 points on the night) to exploit Cleveland turnovers. Then the second unit, with the dazzling Baron Davis (eight assists, zero turnovers in 15 minutes) behind the wheel and the dead-eye Steve Novak (5-6 three-point shooting after the half) riding shotgun, blew the game open with that usual high-flying fare. Lin (19 points, 13 assists, one bloody nose) and the Knick starters returned only because the bench guys deserved a rest and a standing ovation, and had little trouble closing out the win with some fine transition finishes of their own.
New York's win brought them back to .500 at 18-18 while the loss sunk Cleveland to a 13-20 record.