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Ricky Rubio scores 37 points off bench as Cavaliers defeat Knicks

Cavaliers guard Ricky Rubio controls the ball against

Cavaliers guard Ricky Rubio controls the ball against Knicks guard Quentin Grimes during the second half of an NBA game on Sunday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

No one could stop him.

Ricky Rubio, a player who has never averaged more than 13 points in an 11-year NBA career, dropped a career-high 37 on the Knicks on Sunday night to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 126-109 win at Madison Square Garden.

Rubio hit 13 of 19 shots, went 8-for-9 from three-point range and had 10 assists in 31:20 off the bench. In the second half alone, he had 26 points and six assists in 17:38, shooting 9-for-11 from the field and 6-for-7 from outside the arc. The performance was so remarkable that a number of Knicks hugged and congratulated him at the end of the game.

"The thing is, Ricky’s had some big scoring nights," said Tom Thibodeau, who coached Rubio in Minnesota early in the guard’s career. "You worry about his ability to hurt you with the pass. And he’s always been a guy that’s capable. If his feet are set, I think he’s improved a lot as a shooter over the years. He’s always been a terrific free-throw shooter, so I think that’s an indication that the guy has touch. He’s got a great feel for the game. We tried several different things, different defenders on him. Nothing was effective."

The win was the fourth straight for the Cavaliers (7-4), who scored 70 points in the second half. The Knicks (6-4) have lost three of their last four games. All three losses — Cleveland, Indiana and Toronto — were to teams that the Knicks finished ahead of in the Eastern Conference standings last season.

Thibodeau clearly was upset about his team’s defensive effort, particularly against Rubio. "They got their confidence early," he said. "It’s hard to shut them down after that.''

Julius Randle had 19 points and seven rebounds for the Knicks. Derrick Rose added 17 points and Evan Fournier scored 15.

It was a particularly disappointing result for the Knicks, given what they had accomplished Friday night in Milwaukee. They came back from a 21-point second-quarter deficit to beat the defending NBA champs, going ahead by 22 en route to a 15-point victory.

Now they have to quickly regroup and maybe adjust their mindset as they head to Philadelphia to play the 76ers on Monday night in their first back-to-back of the season.

"The games keep coming. They come fast. Everyone in the league is good," Thibodeau said. "You got to be ready. You got to play with an edge. Our defense wasn’t very good. Our rebounding wasn’t very good. And if we’re going to rely just strictly on offense, we’re going to pay a price for it."

Added Randle: "We’ve got to be able to get stops at critical moments, and I feel like we’re not doing that consistently."

After a tight first half in which there were 13 lead changes, the Cavaliers outscored the Knicks 33-18 in the third quarter as Rubio took over.

He was 4-for-4 from three-point range and the Cavaliers were 6-for-7 from outside the arc in the period. The Knicks’ outside shooting, meanwhile, went completely cold (1-for-9). As a result, the Cavaliers carried an 89-75 lead into the final period.

The Knicks were playing without starting point guard Kemba Walker, who was resting his arthritic knee. Rose started in his place and Immanuel Quickley played 20:06. When asked if the lineup change impacted the way the team played, Thibodeau said he didn’t want to make excuses.

Quickley agreed. "I think we just lost," he said. "We didn’t play as good as we needed to. I don’t know that it had anything to do with rotations or just we didn’t have the energy to fight that we needed to have in order to win a basketball game."

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