Even Linsanity shouldn't be as tough to deal with as the guy wearing the black mask Saturday night.
Raymond Felton scored 25 points, Tyson Chandler had 23, and the New York Knicks overcame Irving's career-high 41 points and the absence of Carmelo Anthony to post a 103-102 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Knicks won their fourth straight when Anderson Varejao missed the second of two free throws with 1 second left. They improved the NBA's only unbeaten home record to 10-0, their best start since the 1991-92 team won its first 11 at Madison Square Garden.
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"Guys stepped up. Raymond played great, Tyson played great, and it was just enough," Knicks forward Steve Novak said.
Anthony, the NBA's No. 2 scorer, missed the game after spraining his left ankle Thursday in the third quarter of a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. But Chandler scored 21 in the second half and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Felton and Jason Kidd combined for 15 assists.
It almost wasn't enough thanks to Irving, who had no problems wearing a black protective mask after breaking a bone in his face on a hard fall Friday night against Milwaukee.
"When a guy gets that hot, there's nothing you can really do, other than just stay in front of him and make him take tough shots, which he did. He just hit great shots and we still got the win, though," Felton said. "Any time a guy comes in your building and scores 41 points and he still got a loss, then you did your job."
Rookies Chris Copeland scored 11 in his first career start in place of Anthony, who had 30 points in 22 minutes before getting hurt when he landed awkwardly after a hard foul by Dwight Howard. The Knicks improved to 2-1 without him, adding this to a surprising rout in Miami on Dec. 6.
The Knicks hope Anthony can play Monday against Houston in Jeremy Lin's return to Madison Square Garden, where the undrafted rookie from Harvard became a fan favorite last season and played his way into a big contract with the Rockets.
"He did an excellent job of bringing a lot of cheer. He brought a lot of great vibes to the city and just the arena in general. I had a fun time playing with him," Chandler said. "So I don't know what his reception is, but whatever it is he's on the other side now, so he has to pay for that."
Leading by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, the Knicks had their lead cut to 102-101 when Irving made two free throws with 10.1 seconds left. After Novak made one free throw, Irving pushed the ball up and seemingly the whole Knicks team converged on him, leaving Varejao uncovered toward the left sideline. Irving threw him the ball and Varejao dribbled into the lane, where he was fouled with a second left. After making the first, he may have been distracted when the officials took the ball back from him so the Knicks could make a late substitution, and the second shot fell out.
Irving scored 17 points in the final period, the second-year pro surpassing his previous best of 34 points despite saying he arrived less than three hours before the tip and with only about four hours of sleep after getting fitted for the mask.
He was asked if he was tempted to keep the ball for himself on the last possession.
"There's always temptation there, but I have the utmost trust in my teammates and you know Andy made a great play, got to the free throw line and gave ourselves a chance to win," Irving said.
CJ Miles finished with 17 points for the Cavs, who had three masked men in uniform as they dropped their third straight. Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller were already wearing them for previous facial injuries.
"We played good. We played hard. Answered a lot questions that I had for the guys after the game," Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. "It's just a matter of us doing it on a nightly basis. That's the biggest thing. We can't do it just against the Lakers or the Knicks. You got to do it against everybody and I know we're capable of playing that hard every single night."
J.R Smith scored 16 points and Novak had 13 for the Knicks, who are 21-1 at MSG in the regular season under Mike Woodson.
Copeland made all three shots in the first quarter, but Thompson was 4 for 4 as the Cavs took a 28-27 lead. The Knicks opened a seven-point lead in the second but the Cavs came back to tie it before Novak's 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining sent New York to halftime with a 48-45 advantage.
The Knicks scored the first seven of the second half, opening a 55-45 lead on Felton's 3-pointer a little more than 2 minutes into the third quarter. Cleveland didn't let them get any further away, getting the deficit down to two late in the period before trailing 78-73 going to the fourth.
- The Knicks were also without reserve forward Rasheed Wallace because of a sore left foot.
- Longtime Knicks TV and radio announcer John Andariese was honored with the fifth annual Dick McGuire Knickerbocker Legacy award, given by the family of the Hall of Fame player and team employee to a person who "exudes the qualities of what it means to be a Knickerbocker." Andariese retired before the season after more than 35 years of broadcasting the Knicks.