CLEVELAND — It may have been a coincidence that the night when the “Delly trey” again lit up the Quicken Loans Arena scoreboard for the Cavaliers, they rediscovered their 3-point game.
But as has been said often during this rebuilding season, it was only for a half.
Although their season high of 15 3-pointers came Saturday, that confidence from beyond the arc had been for the most part lost during an injury-plagued season that claimed Tristan Thompson as its latest victim. The Cavs have been a team of midrange shooters in a 3-point league.
But with beloved cult hero Matthew Dellavedova making his home debut Wednesday after returning Friday in a three-team trade, the Cavs made nine from long range in the first 24 minutes. But they couldn’t sustain it, allowing the New York Knicks to rally from a 22-point second-quarter deficit, and making 1-of-12 beyond the arc after halftime.
In a thrilling finish — if that can be said of two teams battling for lottery position — the Cavs escaped with a 113-106 victory.
The Knicks (8-21) lost their fifth consecutive game. The Cavs (7-21) host the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday and the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday afternoon.
The magic from Dellavedova’s return lasted only two quarters. The Knicks opened the third with a 13-2 run to tie the score at 67-all at the 8:11 mark and force a Cavs timeout. From that point, the Cavs had a battle on their hands. The score was tied at 86 after three, the Cavs making just 1-of-9 3-pointers in that period.
Rodney Hood made two free throws to put the Cavs up 103-99 with 3:19 remaining and Jordan Clarkson followed with a runner for a six-point advantage. Emmanuel Mudiay made two free throws to cut the gap to four with 1:35 to play and Kevin Knox canned a 3 to trim the lead to one. After the Cavs missed two shots, Knox put in a massive dunk off a Mudiay assist to give the Knicks a 106-105 lead with 32.5 seconds left.
But Hood made a 10-footer to put the Cavs ahead 107-106 with 23.7 seconds left. Mudiay missed, Cedi Osman grabbed the rebound and was fouled, making both free throws with 15.7 seconds to go for a 3-point advantage. Larry Nance Jr. intercepted a pass on the Knicks’ ensuing possession and Dellavedova hit two free throws with 11.8 seconds left, prompting a few chants of “MVP.”
David Nwaba finished it off with a dunk for the Cavs.
The “MVP” greeting continued during Dellavedova’s postgame on-court interview.
“Obviously, I love this place, love you guys, appreciate the support,” he said.
Clarkson led the Cavs with 28 points, Hood contributed 23 points and five rebounds and rookie Collin Sexton added 19 points, three rebounds and two assists. Nance scored just three points, but added 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Dellavedova finished with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists in 22 minutes, making 4-of-7 shots and 3-of-5 treys.
Enes Kanter and Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 20 points each, Knox added 19 points and seven rebounds and Frank Ntilikina and Mudiay had 16 points each, the latter with eight rebounds.
It was “A Christmas Story” Night at Quicken Loans Arena with T-shirts bearing the leg lamp from the movie shot in Cleveland. But what the crowd cared about most was Dellavedova. Fans held signs like “Momma’s Delly,” which bore a red heart.
Dellavedova played for the Cavs for three seasons starting in 2013 and was a member of the 2016 NBA championship team. The spunky point guard from Australia capitalized on the title success by signing a four-year, $38 million free agent contract with the Bucks. But he never found the success there that he had in Cleveland.
The Cavs led by six when Dellavedova entered the game at the 4:14 mark in the first quarter to a partial standing ovation. A Delly trey quickly followed, drawing a huge roar and putting him over 2,000 career points. The Cavs boosted their lead to 16 at the end of the period as Dellavedova made his first two from beyond the arc. Clarkson had seven for the Cavs in the surge.
Dellavedova went 3-for-3 from long range in the first half as the Cavs connected on 9-of-22. Also hot were Hood (2-for-4) and Clarkson (2-for-5).
Rookie point guard Sexton continued to make strides. He scored in double figures for the 18th consecutive game, the fifth-longest streak by a rookie in Cavs history and the longest since LeBron James’ 29 in 2003-04.
The Cavs played their first game without Thompson, their veteran center and leader, who sprained his left foot Monday in Milwaukee and will miss two to four weeks. Channing Frye made his second start of the season in his place.
The Cavs did get shooting guard Nwaba back after he missed nine games with a sore right knee. But Nwaba was on a minute restriction, which became a factor in the second half.
Rebounding was Cavs coach Larry Drew’s biggest concern in Thompson’s absence. But the Cavs claimed a 51-43 edge on the boards.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.