The Knicks didn't have Carmelo Anthony and they didn't have Rasheed Wallace Saturday night. But coach Mike Woodson, in a pregame speech to the team televised by MSG, told the players they were not allowed to feel sorry for themselves for being shorthanded.
Actually, he told them they weren't shorthanded. Period. But the Knicks needed every single point they scored and every second on the clock to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 103-102.
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The Cavaliers (5-20), who trailed by as many as 10 in the fourth quarter, could have sent the game into overtime if Anderson Varejao had hit two free throws with one second left. The 61 percent free-throw shooter hit the first but not the second, and J.R. Smith got the rebound.
The Knicks (18-5) won their fourth in a row and ninth in 10 games. They are 10-0 at home and 2-1 without Anthony.
Kyrie Irving, last season's Rookie of the Year, played with a mask after breaking a bone in his jaw Friday and scored a career-high 41 for the Cavaliers. His point total was the most against the Knicks this season. Irving scored 17 in the fourth quarter, including 10 straight Cleveland points in a 45-second span during the final minute.
"He had a hell of a game and we had a heck of a game," said Woodson, who chided himself for not sending Tyson Chandler out to help Jason Kidd and get the ball out of Irving's hands in the fourth quarter.
"He's phenomenal," Woodson said. "I had an opportunity to watch him this summer out at the Olympics with the Trials there and him competing against Melo and LeBron and Wade, and I thought he was the bright spot. He could have easily played on that team, I thought."
Still, Woodson said, "I'm pleased with the outcome."
The Knicks went ahead 90-80 on Chandler's dunk with 5:48 left. But when Irving capped his personal run by hitting two free throws with 10.1 seconds left, the Cavaliers trailed by only 102-101.
Steve Novak hit the first of two free throws but missed the second with 9.5 seconds left. When Varejao matched him, the Knicks had the victory. "You've just got to find ways to win," Novak said. "Sometimes it's beautiful, sometimes it's ugly. One free throw makes a difference. As long as it goes our way."
Raymond Felton led the Knicks with 25 points and seven assists and Chandler had 23 points and 10 rebounds. Surprise starter Chris Copeland had 11 points. Smith scored 16 points and Novak 13 off the bench.
"It was a huge win for us," Chandler said. More like a huge escape.
The Knicks might be less shorthanded soon. Anthony (sprained ankle) could be back Monday night when Jeremy Lin's Rockets visit the Garden.
Amar'e Stoudemire, who hopes to return before New Year's, went through a pregame workout routine that included vigorous low-post work.
Copeland hit his first three shots and scored eight points in the first quarter, but with Chandler in foul trouble, the Knicks were sluggish on defense and fell behind by eight points. A 7-0 run at the end of the quarter, capped by Novak's three-pointer, got the Knicks back to within 28-27. They led 48-45 at the half.
The Knicks scored the first seven points of the third quarter to take their first double-digit lead at 55-45. They couldn't pull away, though, and the Cavs got to within two points near the end of the quarter.
It was more of the same in the fourth. The Knicks never led by more than 10 and never lost the lead.