This one really hurt. riding a - game winning streak and creeping closer to the final playoff spot, the New York Knicks faced the Cleveland Cavaliers knowing the team they are chasing (Atlanta Hawks) had already lost earlier in the day. That news seemed to bolster the Blue and Orange from the very beginning as they jumped out to a 34-27 first quarter lead paced by Carmelo Anthony's 12 points.
The bench kicked in scoring a combined 17 points between Pablo Prigioni, Tim Hardaway, Jr. and Shannon Brown to take a 1- point halftime lead. For a change it appeared that New York regained the home court confidence they established last year. Then, Cleveland led by Jarrett Jack's (31) and Dion Waiters' (22) points played with the mindset that if they can't make the playoffs, neither should the Knicks.
The comeback began with the Cavs outscoring the Knicks 28-23 in the third getting within 7 (84-77). Then, New York could not hit a shot and could not defend the pick and roll. They missed 13 shots while turning the ball over 5 times. Meanwhile, Cleveland took advantage on the inside, scoring 40 points in the paint. They shot a ridiculous 77% in the second half erasing a 17-point deficit after a Jack 3-pointer with 3:54 left gave them their first lead of the game.
Waiters scored his last points with a trifecta and Anderson Varejao victimized the Knicks with yet another pick and roll ending in his slam extending the lead to 6 (100-94). A J.R. Smith jumper and 2 Anthony free throws got the Knicks within 2 (102-100) but that's as close as they would get.
As a unit, the Knicks knew they blew an opportunity to not only extend their winning streak to 8 but to get within 2 games of the Hawks. Especially knowing they are about to embark on a 5 game western swing that starts Tuesday night against the Kobe-less Lakers.
Head coach Mike Woodson wanted this game as a springboard to the upcoming trip.
"This was like a getaway game for us to get us set up for the road," he said afterwards. "We didn't close it out. So we got to go on the road and win all 5 if we can."
Center Tyson Chandler (4 points) coming off the game against Philadelphia in which he scored 17 points in the win gave kudos to Jack.
"Jarrett Jack took control of the pick and roll in the second half. He made some tough shots especially down the stretch."
The New York Knicks have 12 games left in the regular season, eight of them on the road. If they do make the playoffs, they will face either Miami or Indiana. They will be facing teams that are still jockeying for playoff positions. That's why games like last night was one they could not afford to lose.