CLEVELAND: The ceremony was nice; the return of LeBron James to Quicken Loans Arena was surreal. But the part that mattered most was the fourth-quarter inefficiency and another stinging loss in a playoff chase quickly circling the drain.
The Cavs failed to hold a brief fourth-quarter lead and fell to the New York Knicks on Saturday 107-97, their fourth consecutive loss to extend their winless March on the night the franchise retired Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ No. 11.
If this team had any hope of pulling out a late-season playoff berth, the popular thought was the Cavs had to escape this weekend with no worse than a split and ideally a sweep. Instead they were swept by the Charlotte Bobcats and Knicks, one team they’re chasing and another they’re trying to fend off.
These first four games of March, however, were simply the primer for the buzz saw that lies ahead — a three-game West Coast trip to the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers, followed by three home games against the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.
Kyrie Irving had 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists and Spencer Hawes had 21 points and 10 rebounds, but Hawes shot 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter and Irving had as many baskets as turnovers (two) in the fourth quarter. The Cavs shot 27 percent in the fourth quarter (6-for-22) after struggling offensively in Friday’s loss to the Bobcats as well.
Owner Dan Gilbert tried his best to inspire the team at halftime, ending his speech honoring Ilgauskas by encouraging his players to pull out this much-needed victory.
It worked briefly. The Cavs erased a 15-point deficit in the first half and even led 80-77 on a Dion Waiters layup with 10:40 left, but the Knicks scored 14 of the game’s next 15 points to take control.
Carmelo Anthony had 26 points, Amare Stoudemire had 17 points and 12 rebounds and Tyson Chandler had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who pulled into a tie with the Cavs for 10th place in the East. Both teams are four games behind the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks, who played at the Clippers late Saturday. But the Cavs are running out of time, down to just 18 games left to close a wide deficit.
They had a strange guest for the loss. James, as expected, attended the game and the halftime ceremony honoring Ilgauskas. He did not speak, but sat on the Cavs’ bench next to former General Manager Chris Grant during the festivities. Grant was fired last month by Gilbert, but returned to observe the night he created.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com.