Melo, Knicks steal the night in LeBron's homecoming
MANILA, Philippines – The anticipation was indefinable leading up to October 30, Thursday (Friday morning in PH) When the day finally arrived, there was a different feeling in the air in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Prodigal Son was back, a king now with a ring ready to lead his hometown team back to prominence. Ready to give a starving city their first taste of a pro-sports championship over the last 40 years.
LeBron changed his jersey number back to 23, and returned the powder toss which image has been plastered on the t-shirts and walls of many Cavalier fans all over the world.
The pre-game introductions were beautiful. There was a new scoreboard raised atop the Quicken Loans Arena, where 20,000+ were ready to "witness"; ready to watch the return of their sports hero in a Cavs jersey.
It was like some "[NFL] Superbowl shit," said Cleveland forward Shawn Marion, who chose the Cavs in free agency because he wanted to be a part of this phenomenon, this new super team that promised a better tomorrow for the Cavaliers franchise and its title-hungry fans.
On October 30, the New York Knicks came to town, one day fresh out of an embarrassing 104-80 shellacking from the dominant Chicago Bulls. The Triangle Offense, whatever anyone anticipated out of it, looked anything but efficient as Joakim Noah and company destroyed any semblance of offense the Knickerbockers put up a day before.
Up next, New York had to face Cleveland in the latter's awaited season-opener. They had to face a rampant crowd. They had to face the four-time MVP.
But they survived, stealing the thunder from LeBron and the rest of the Cavaliers, 95-90.
New Knicks head coach Derek Fisher grabbed his first career coaching win, and it couldn't have come against a better opponent.
The Cavs offense, despite what analysts said during the offseason, looked like a dumpster fire. LeBron James finished with 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting and 8 woeful turnovers. Kyrie Irving had 22 points but threw away 4 turnovers of his own. Kevin Love put up 19 markers and 14 boards, but was a non-factor as New York hit dagger jumper after another in the fourth period.
"Great win for us. Great road win. It tested us mentally to see how we'd bounce back from last night," Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony said after the game.
Melo finished with 25 points and 6 assists, but it was his shot late in the game that really stood out. With less than 30 seconds to go and New York clinging on to a 90-87 lead.
With LeBron James, the biggest rival he's had in his career, on him, Melo took a few dribbles left, and pulled up for the jumper. He's done it so many times in his career; it was like clockwork. The next second, the shot was in and the entire arena went silent. With that shot, in LeBron's face, on his homecourt, on his night, Melo took the spotlight.
"I'm just glad it's over," James said to Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick after the game, referring to the emotional evening of his return.
It doesn't get any easier for the Cavs, who face the Bulls Saturday, November 1 (PH time). Chicago will be ready and hungry, eager to prove they're coming for the Eastern Conference title which LeBron James has gripped by the palm of his hand over the past four years, albeit with a different franchise.
The responsibilities on LeBron's shoulders are now heavier than ever before, and critics will be ready to punish him if he fails.
For the Knicks, the victory spells the start to a new regime. Anthony played iso-Melo late in the game to burn LeBron - which he has done so many times in his career in the past - and the Cavs for the NYK's first victory. But the Triangle Offense is why this team looked good for the most part against Cleveland, and it's mandatory they stick to it.
Knicks assisted on 81% (30 of 37) of their baskets against CLE tonight. Last season, they assisted on just 54% of their field goals.— Chris Herring (@HerringWSJ) October 31, 2014
The ending to the script for both clubs this season may turn out to be very different - the Cavs could be in the finals and the Knicks far away from it. But on October 30, with their effective Triangle Offense and Melo's late jumper, the picture-perfect homecoming for the King and his new court was tarnished.