CLEVELAND — Tim Hardaway Jr. had put up brick after brick in his first four games as a Knick. He had seen so many shots miss the mark, but he finally watched them drop Sunday night.
The Knicks’ $71-million man performed like a prime-time player against the struggling three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers. Hardaway and Kristaps Porzingis were a much more lethal one-two punch than LeBron James and Kevin Love. They totaled 66 points to lead the Knicks to their second straight win, a surprising 114-95 victory over the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
It was the Knicks’ first win over James and the Cavaliers in their last 10 meetings.
“We’re capable of beating a lot of teams if we play the way we did tonight,” Porzingis said after his first-ever win over the Cavaliers. “It just shows that with some energy and some effort, we can win the game.”
Hardaway led the Knicks (2-3) with 34 points and eight assists. He shot 11-for-19 from the field, including 5-for-10 from three-point range, after shooting 13-for-49 (26.5 percent) and totaling 34 points in his first four games. “He’s been waiting for that breakout game,” Courtney Lee said. “I’m happy that he had it today. So now that he’s got his confidence and his rhythm, it should be fun going forward.”
Porzingis had 32 points and 12 rebounds. It was his fourth game of at least 30 points in five games this season. Enes Kanter added 18 points and 12 rebounds and Lee had 15 points and 10 boards. The Knicks were plus-10 on rebounds and held the Cavs to 38.1 percent shooting.
Love’s 22 points and 11 rebounds led Cleveland (3-4). James had an uninspiring 16-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist night and former Knick Derrick Rose scored 15 points.
After missing his first two shots, Hardaway hit nine of his next 11, scored 24 points in the first half and helped the Knicks build an 18-point lead late in the half. The Knicks led for the last 27:27 of the game and never trailed after the first quarter.
“Just attacking,” Hardaway said. “I think I did lot more attacking, took the threes when they were there. I’m a lot more confident. Seeing one go down, it opens up a lot.”
The Knicks showed resilience by handling a few Cavaliers runs and never relinquishing the lead.
They led by 15 to start the fourth, but after they failed to make a field goal in the first 4:17 of the quarter, the Cavaliers closed to within 94-88.
Lee’s tough driving bank shot ended the drought and ignited a 9-0 run by the Knicks. He added a three-pointer in the run for the Knicks, who went up 103-88 when Kanter scored inside with 5:42 left.
The Cavaliers cut it to 10 on Kyle Korver’s three-pointer, but Porzingis responded with eight consecutive points — including two three-pointers — to give the Knicks a 111-93 cushion.
“I was happy for our guys that we had the big lead and they cut it to six,” Jeff Hornacek said. “They could have folded against a veteran team like that. But they came back, made some big shots and pulled it out.”
Earlier in the day, team president Steve Mills talked about wanting to see the rebuilding Knicks show progress. He thought they made some with Friday’s win over the Nets, and this game surely was another positive step.
Said Lee, “We just kept our composure. We showed true character. Towards the end, we continued to execute. The last couple of games, the execution’s been on point. We continued to fight. They made their run. Nobody hung their heads. We continued to compete and we were able to get stops and we were able to answer and get the win.”