CLEVELAND — On the streets and sidewalks outside Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, fans heading to the game were slipping and sliding on the ice and slush. And for much of the night inside the arena, it looked very much the same.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day game between the Knicks and Cavaliers was a matchup of two of the NBA’s worst teams. The Knicks’ 106-86 victory tied the two teams at 12-32, with only the Warriors and Hawks behind them in the race for Ping-Pong balls in the NBA Draft Lottery.
Despite the risk of losing Ping-Pong balls, the Knicks took advantage of a chance to avenge the embarrassing 108-87 loss to the Cavaliers on Nov. 10 in the 10th game of the season that led to the impromptu postgame news conference by team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry. The Knicks beat them eight days later and now have won two of three against Cleveland.
Even as the Knicks pulled ahead in the second half and methodically stretched the lead, there were air balls and bricks thrown up and turnovers sprinkled in. But the Knicks limited the Cavaliers to 14 points in the third quarter and outscored them 57-36 in the second half. The Cavs shot 13-for-48 after halftime.
“We protected the paint,” Marcus Morris said. “I thought first half, we played really well. We just gave up too many offensive rebounds. It was a carry-over from last game. I thought we defended the 76ers really well. It was a carry-over. We’re getting better. We’re coming together. We’ve just got to get better on the glass, continue to rebound so once we get it, we can go.”
“When we’re going those stretches and getting a bunch of stops, we feed off of that,” interim coach Mike Miller said. “Our defense winds up being solid. When it’s trading baskets, when we can get two, three stops that leads to two, three more, I thought that was the difference tonight. We put together consecutive stops and we were able to rebound it in the second half. That gave us a chance.”
The Knicks had a brief scare in the third quarter when Morris hit a three-pointer and came down on Kevin Love’s foot, turning his right ankle.
Morris, who had missed five straight games with a sore neck before returning for the previous two games, stayed down on the floor for a few minutes, grasping at his ankle. But he got up and — after the officials reviewed the play and assessed a Flagrant 1 foul against Love for coming under Morris’ landing spot — stayed in the game. He went to the locker room later in the quarter to have his ankle retaped and returned to the game midway through the fourth quarter.
“Just a twist,” Morris said. “I’ll have it reevaluated tomorrow. Can’t say as of now [if I can play Wednesday]. It’s pretty sore. Like I said, we’re going to reevaluate it tomorrow. Obviously, everyone saw I twisted it. Just see how I feel and go from there.”
The Knicks need Morris for his play on the floor, but they also can’t afford for him to get injured with the Feb. 6 trade deadline only weeks away and teams showing interest in him and the bonus of an expiring contract.
Morris and Julius Randle led the Knicks with 19 points each. Damyean Dotson added 12 points off the bench, including eight in the third quarter.
Collin Sexton led Cleveland with 17 points and Tristan Thompson added 13 points and 22 rebounds.