By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
NEW YORK: Another lethargic first half and another big halftime deficit was enough for coach Mike Brown to tear into his players at the half Sunday night. This time they didn’t wait until it was too late to stage another dramatic comeback.
Jarrett Jack scored a season-high 31 points, Dion Waiters had 22 and the Cavaliers erased a 17-point deficit from the first half to storm out of Madison Square Garden with a 106-100 victory against the New York Knicks.
The Cavs limited the Knicks to 39 points and 32 percent shooting in the second half after the Knicks enjoyed a 51-34 lead in the second quarter. It’s the Cavs’ second huge comeback in about a week after they rallied from 18 down to beat the Golden State Warriors last weekend.
“It was about making a stand — each individual person making a stand and then collectively as a team, us all bringing that same mindset to the table,” Jack said. “I thought guys responded. But he [Brown] shouldn’t have to do that. We should come out and have that mindset on our own. That falls on my shoulders — and a lot of the veteran guys on this team. We have to do a good job of conveying that message each and every night.”
The Cavs went small in the fourth quarter, using guards Jack, Waiters and Matthew Dellavedova alongside Luol Deng and Anderson Varejao for the bulk of the final quarter. The smaller, quicker lineup gave the Knicks fits at both ends.
Jack was terrific in what was easily his best game of the season. He scorched the Knicks with an assortment of jumpers and runners in the lane while adding 10 assists. He fell just shy of matching his career high of 33 points — also set at Madison Square Garden four years ago — but more importantly the victory ended the Cavs’ four-game losing streak.
The Knicks, who watched their eight-game winning streak end, imploded late in a game critical to their postseason hopes. They were reduced to primarily jump shooters in the second half, and on the few occasions they got to the rim, blew a handful of open lay-ups.
The Knicks managed just 12 baskets in the second half after scoring 15 in the first quarter alone.
The Cavs’ ball movement improved dramatically in the second half; they pounded the Knicks with pick-and-rolls and they rode Jack’s hot hand. He shot 6-for-7 in the fourth quarter and scored 13 points to secure the win.
Two free throws from Carmelo Anthony, who finished with 32 points, pulled the Knicks within 102-100 with 42 seconds left. Jack took the inbounds pass coming out of a timeout, bled the game clock down to 24 seconds and stuck a jumper from the elbow for his final basket of the night and essentially the game-winner for the Cavs.
“Jack hit some shots that kind of make you go, ‘Wow, OK.’ We kept feeding him. New York knew it, but they had a hard time defending him in the pick and roll,” Brown said. “If he’s not hitting the shots that he is, it’s going to be a little more difficult for us because our small ball package isn’t great.”
Deng returned to the starting lineup despite not practicing yet on his sprained left ankle. He shot around on it Saturday and it felt good enough for him to take a chance at playing.
Deng had 13 points and four rebounds in 33 minutes. He conceded before the game his ankle isn’t 100 percent healthy, but was frustrated by all the losing and wanted to do what he could to end it.
Playing 33 minutes on a bad ankle while defending Anthony is quite a task, but Brown was pleased with how little the Cavs had to double team the league’s second-leading scorer because of the job Deng did.
“I’m going to do what I can do out there. I’m not thinking of who I’m playing,” Deng said. “Whenever you go on a losing streak, and what we have to learn as a team is just do whatever it takes to turn it around. Now you go to the next game feeling good and with confidence, you have a better chance of winning that again than going in after a loss.”
The Cavs have been plagued by terrible offensive starts recently, falling behind 17-4 to the Rockets, 23-9 to the Heat, 19-5 to the Clippers and 20-4 to the Warriors.
They didn’t fall into a deep hole early against the Knicks, but poor defense and a lack of ball movement offensively eventually resulted in the customary huge deficit, which segued into Brown’s rip job at the half. The players responded, outscoring the Knicks 60-49 in the second half.
“I just challenged them, that’s all. I didn’t say much,” Brown said. “The guys in the locker room decided to go play and they went out there and got it done. Their intensity level on both ends of the floor was better, they shared the basketball a lot better and when we had an opportunity to get out in transition we ran the right way. The group of guys in that locker room, give them credit for going and getting this ‘W.’ ”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.