The Knicks were unable to avoid a late-game catastrophe as they bumbled to a 106-100 defeat by the hapless Cavaliers.
New York (29-41) found itself in a precarious position against the pesky Cavs (27-44) as the moribund squad fought until the end and pulled off the upset.
“I thought we started out well. We came in at the half playing pretty good basketball and then we went dry early in the third. I thought we came out to start the third so slow, while they made their first five shots,” said head coach Mike Woodson. “Once [Jarrett] Jack and [Dion] Waiters got hot they were tough to stop. I thought Jack made some tough shots. ... Even when we had to switch, he hit some tough shots over Tyson [Chandler]. He was the difference in the game tonight.”
Carmelo Anthony was 0-of-6 from the field in the fourth quarter and picked up a crucial offensive foul in the final seconds. The Cavs’ backcourt of Jack and Waiters offset the All-Star forward’s game-high 32 points.
Jack was particularly effective as he weaved past Raymond Felton for most of the night, including his clutch 15-foot jumper with 24.7 seconds remaining to give Cleveland a four-point lead. Jack shot 6-of-7 in the pivotal fourth quarter to really put a damper on the Knicks’ postseason hopes.
The loss against the Cavs was particularly troubling for a Knicks squad fighting for its playoff life. The Hawks, who entered their contest just three games ahead of the Knicks for the eighth and final playoff spot, dropped a 96-86 decision to the Raptors earlier in the afternoon, which should’ve opened the door for the Knicks to close the gap.
“It’s tough, very tough,” said Woodson. “I think we could’ve moved within two games tonight of Atlanta if we handled our business and we just didn’t. I gotta take full responsibility for that.”
“This was a huge opportunity lost and one we can’t afford,” said J.R. Smith. “We can’t get it back. We just got to go on the road and win some games and hopefully [the Hawks] keep losing.”
Cleveland refused to accept defeat as they erased a 17-point deficit that was accrued in the first half. Jack and Waiters had 31 points and 22 points, respectively. It was a season high for Jack, who was filling in for injured point guard Kyrie Irving. The franchise player will be out a couple of weeks due to a strained tendon in his left biceps. Cleveland was also without Anthony Bennett, as the No. 1 overall pick is suffering through a sprained knee, and C.J. Miles, who was dealing with an ankle injury.
Cleveland used the hot shooting touch of their backcourt to spur the team to shoot a collective 68 percent in the second half.
Jack, who also added a game-high 10 assists, especially impressed the Knicks.
“They did a great job in the pick-and-roll and Jarrett hit some big shots, some tough shots. We just didn’t do a good job at adjusting,” said Smith, who notched 18 points. “Dion got two or three buckets to start the third quarter and got hot, too. We just need to do a better job at on-the-ball defense and help defense as well.”
“I thought Jarrett took more control of the pick-and-roll and made some tough shots,” said Chandler. “We came out a little flat in the third quarter and had some defensive breakdowns and gave them some rhythm. Every time we made a run, they made a big play. Ray did a great job at challenging Jarrett, but he just made some great shots.”
The loss was the second straight in which the Knicks blew a late lead and wasted a strong performance from its starters, as four of the five notched double-digit scoring. New York failed to duplicate Friday night’s performance against the 76ers when they nearly fell victim to a total collapse in the final four minutes by seeing a 17-point lead shrink to just two, before holding on for the win.
Cleveland’s duo, however, proved to be a bigger nuisance than the Sixers.
“They were just scrapping more [and] hungrier in the second half. We let them come out in the second half and set the tempo instead of us setting the tempo,” said Smith. “It happened, unfortunately, but at this time of the season and where we’re at, we can’t let that happen. It is what it is. ... Now we just need to go out West and come home with a clean sweep.”
Knicks notes ...
»Chandler grabbed six rebounds, but none on the offensive glass, making it the first time in 21 games he didn’t have an offensive rebound.
»Irving’s absence should’ve been a particularly good sign for the Knicks, as the point guard has eviscerated them this season. Irving was averaging 30.8 points in his last six games against New York and a team-best 30.3 points in this season’s three previous matchups.
»The Knicks have had an up-and-down campaign all season, but one constant has always been Anthony — particularly against the Cavaliers. The Knicks entered the game having won five consecutive home games against the Cavaliers and seven of the last nine overall matchups. Anthony averaged 28.8 points and shooting 50.6 percent in the last five meetings.
»The Knicks entered the game winners of eight straight, which had them in rarified company. They were the first team to win at least eight in a row immediately following a seven-game losing streak since the Rockets did it during the 1992-93 season. That Rockets team advanced to the Western Conference semifinals before bowing out to the Supersonics — just one season before beating the Knicks in the 1994 NBA Finals.
Follow Knicks beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.