CLEVELAND — On a night when it was impossible to go 3-0, the Cavaliers went 2-1 Monday at Quicken Loans Arena.
The wins were a great 16-minute performance by Kevin Love and an ugly 107-104 victory over the New York Knicks in a battle of the Eastern Conference’s two worst teams (and two of the three worst in the NBA).
Love started at power forward — it was his second appearance and start since suffering a toe/foot injury in the fourth game of the season — and finished with 14 points on 4-for-10 shooting (2-for-6 3-pointers), nine rebounds, one assist and three turnovers in 15:43.
The Cavs outscored the Knicks by 13 points while he was on the floor, with all of the All-Star’s playing time coming in the first half, when Cleveland built a 63-48 lead.
“I enjoyed tonight, especially being back home,” said Love, who played 6:29 Friday in Washington, improved to 1-5 in games played this season and expects to be on the floor Wednesday when the Cavs host Brooklyn in their last game before the All-Star break.
The loss was the fact the Cavs (12-45) fell further behind the Knicks (10-46), who went down for a franchise-record 17th straight time, in the battle for the worst record in the league. Idle Phoenix (11-47) owns the second-worst record, followed by Cleveland at No. 3. Chicago (13-43) isn’t too far behind at No. 4.
That’s not quite as important as it was in previous seasons, as the three worst teams will each have a 14 percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick through the draft lottery. The team with the worst record still has a 48 percent chance of picking fourth or fifth in the draft, but the second-worst can pick as low as No. 6 and the third-worst could pick as low as No. 7.
For one night, at least, draft scenarios played second fiddle to Love’s performance, which came with him starting along with newcomer Brandon Knight at shooting guard. They were joined by point guard Collin Sexton, small forward David Nwaba and center Larry Nance Jr.
“I think he looks great,” Cleveland coach Larry Drew said of Love. “He’s really doing some things that we’ve really missed over his absence.
“You can clearly see when he’s out on the floor, we have a real good rhythm. Let’s face it: He’s our go-to guy. ... He’s always a threat, wherever he is on the floor. Our guys are feeding off that.”
The Cavs, who had lost four straight, 10 of their last 12 and 22 of 25, also got a sixth straight double-double from Nance, who had 15 points, 16 rebounds (10 offensive) and four assists; 20 points (on 7-for-21 shooting) from Sexton; 15 points (on 6-for-17 shooting) from Jordan Clarkson; 14 points and seven boards from newcomer Marquese Chriss; and 12 points and six assists from Matthew Dellavedova.
But Love’s performance was the biggest story of the evening.
“That’s our guy,” Nance said. “That’s our rock out there. You always know what you’re going to get from him.”
The oft-injured 30-year-old drew a foul on Cleveland’s first possession and hit a 3-pointer on the next, which was followed by another three by Knight as the Cavs went up 8-0 in the first 1:22. Cleveland then missed 11 of its next 12 shots, including six 3-pointers, as its lead shrank to 10-9.
Love played the first 6:52 in his first stint, putting up nine points and grabbing two boards as the Cavs took a 16-11 lead. He returned soon after when Nance picked up his second foul and finished the period with 12 points and three boards in 10:02 as the Cavs took a 30-22 lead.
Love returned and played the final 5:41 of the second period, missing three shots but making a pair of free throws and grabbing six rebounds as the Cavs built a 15-point halftime lead.
“You can see his production in a short amount of time,” Clarkson said. “It’s all there for him. Once he gets back his breathing and shape, he’s going to be a real big help.
“You can see it when he’s in the game: Lot of open looks, lot of movement. He knows how to play.”
The Cavs, as they so often do, made things interesting in the second half, but the Knicks, who got 25 points from two-way G League player Kadeem Allen, were just bad enough to lose on a night they never led.
Cleveland was 7-for-25 from the field and committed four turnovers in the third period, but still led by 10 going into the fourth, when it saw its lead cut to four early in the final quarter.
Still down four, the Knicks missed a 3-pointer and committed a turnover before Luke Kornet hit a three to make it a 105-104 game with 52.1 seconds remaining.
The Cavs went up three on a pair of Sexton free throws with 17.3 ticks on the clock, then survived when Dennis Smith Jr. and John Jenkins missed 3-pointers in the closing seconds.
Cleveland won despite shooting 14-for-46 from the field (.304) in a 44-point second half, with newcomer Nik Stauskas going 1-for-9 from the field on the night and 1-for-7 on 3-pointers.
“It wasn’t pretty at all points of the second half, but we were able to get it done,” Love said. “Sometimes it’s going to be like that.”
Cavaliers 107, Knicks 104
NEW YORK (104): Knox 5-16 2-2 13, Hezonja 2-8 0-0 5, Jordan 5-7 2-2 12, Smith Jr. 5-12 0-2 10, Dotson 2-6 3-4 8, Kornet 2-6 0-0 6, Vonleh 2-5 0-0 4, Robinson 5-6 0-1 10, Allen 10-16 4-5 25, Jenkins 3-5 0-0 7, Trier 1-5 2-4 4. Totals 42-92 13-20 104.
CLEVELAND (107): Nwaba 2-9 0-0 5, Love 4-10 4-4 14, Nance Jr. 5-6 4-4 15, Sexton 7-21 4-5 20, Knight 3-5 0-0 9, Adel 0-0 0-0 0, Frye 0-0 0-0 0, Chriss 5-8 2-2 14, Dellavedova 5-10 2-3 12, Stauskas 1-9 0-0 3, Clarkson 6-17 1-1 15. Totals 38-95 17-19 107.
New York 22 26 31 25—104
Cleveland 30 33 26 18—107
3-Point Goals -- New York 7-26 (Kornet 2-5, Hezonja 1-2, Allen 1-2, Dotson 1-2, Jenkins 1-3, Knox 1-7, Trier 0-1, Vonleh 0-2, Smith Jr. 0-2), Cleveland 14-44 (Knight 3-4, Chriss 2-3, Love 2-6, Clarkson 2-8, Sexton 2-8, Nance Jr. 1-2, Nwaba 1-3, Stauskas 1-7, Dellavedova 0-3). Fouled Out -- None. Rebounds -- New York 46 (Jordan 10), Cleveland 56 (Nance Jr. 16). Assists -- New York 21 (Allen 6), Cleveland 20 (Dellavedova 6). Total Fouls -- New York 17, Cleveland 16. Technicals -- New York coach Knicks (Delay of game). A -- 19,432 (20,562).