Head bowed and resting on his clenched fists, LeBron James sat on the Cavaliers' bench all by his lonesome. His eyes were closed and it looked as if the superstar was deep in thought.
The arena went dark and James remained motionless, getting mentally prepared for his final scheduled visit of the season to Madison Square Garden. Only minutes earlier, he talked about how the Cavs having just one All-Star was a slap in the face and how disrespected he felt.
So with that -- and Kobe Bryant's record-shattering 61-point performance two nights earlier -- in mind, James' focus appeared razor-sharp from the outset. He didn't break Bryant's record, but he got the triple-double Bryant thought he was more likely to get -- in his own historic way.
James dazzled the sellout crowd with his 21st triple-double, posting 52 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in the Cavs' 107-102 win over the Knicks. In recording his fourth triple-double of the season, he became the first player to score at least 50 in one since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Jan. 19, 1975.
"When you get into the zone or get a hot hand," James said, "you continue to see if it's going to continue, and it did for me."
James' 52 points are the third-most by an opponent in the current Garden's history, behind Bryant's 61 and Michael Jordan's 55.
James pumped in 20 first-quarter points, two ahead of Bryant's pace Monday. Noticeably absent were the earsplitting shrieks that accompanied Bryant's buckets. James had 28 at the first half and 24 in the second, including many big plays down the stretch.
James' left leg cramped up with 7:22 left in the game but he returned about a minute later. He had a hand in eight of the Cavs' final nine points. The Knicks closed within 100-99 before he crossed over David Lee, broke him down and got to the basket for a three-point lead. James hit Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who lost Lee, underneath the basket for an easy layup to stake the Cavs to a four-point lead with 52.6 seconds left. After Al Harrington's three rimmed out with just under 40 seconds left, James sank two free throws for a six-point lead with 22.2 seconds left.
Harrington was brilliant, getting 39 points and 13 rebounds. Lee had 12 points and 10 rebounds for his 12th straight double-double and 37th of the season.
Blown out in their two previous meetings with James & Co., the Knicks trailed for nearly the first three quarters and found themselves down by 15 before they finally climbed out -- temporarily. Tim Thomas' three-pointer with 1:28 left in the third gave the Knicks a 78-77 edge, but James came right back 18 seconds later with a backbreaking three-point play the old school way. That pattern kept repeating itself in the closing minutes.
Harrington's 14-point second quarter kept the Knicks in it after the Cavs threatened to blow them out early. Harrington hit his first seven shots of the quarter and single-handedly fueled a 10-0 run with nothing but layups, helping the Knicks trim a 14-point early-quarter deficit to 43-42 with 5:22 left in the half.
"I just had to be aggressive," Harrington said. "I couldn't sit back. Sometimes I have a tendency to sit back sometimes and just try to stay within the flow and let the game come to me. But sometimes you've got to force the issue and I felt like my team needed me to do that tonight."
"We're not playing against LeBron. We're playing against the Cleveland Cavaliers," Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Just as soon as everyone can understand that ... Yeah, he got 50. He got a triple-double. The stat sheet doesn't mean anything. We got beat by five points."