LeBron James beat the Knicks this week as easily and as often as a turnstile jumper beats a subway fare.
From taking a subtle dig at poor, unsuspecting Frank Ntilikina to declaring himself, via Instagram, the undisputed King of New York, LeBron won both the mind games and the basketball game. (It also helps that Kyle Korver caught fire in the fourth quarter of Cleveland’s 104-101 victory and that Kristaps Porzingis missed three critical free throws in the final 3:18.)
On Tuesday, the simmering LeBron vs. Enes Kanter feud took a silly, almost juvenile turn when Kanter responded to James’ Instagram post by playfully saying “We’ve already got a king; it’s Kristaps Porzingis. Sorry about that.”
One night earlier, Kanter’s trash talking game was sharper when he said: “I don’t care … what you call yourself. King, Queen, Princess, whatever you are. You know what, we’re going to fight and nobody out there (is) going to punk us.”
LeBron’s rebuttal was celebrated as a drop the mic moment when in fact it sounded a bit corny.
“I’m the King, my wife is the Queen and my daughter is the Princess,” he said. “So we got all three covered.”
The NFL wishes it could have this much innocent controversy.
Kudos to Kanter for standing up for Porzingis the morning after he rushed to physically defend Ntilikina by going nose-to-nose with the self-proclaimed best player on the planet. Those moments help to unify a team.
Kanter won the hearts of Knicks fans that still yearn for the days of Charles Oakley and the no lay-up ruleeven if current ownership doesn’t appreciate what Oakley meant to team and the city.
Kanter enjoys playing this role of the vocal bodyguard. Last season, he memorably traded insults with Kevin Durant, who seconds earlier was yapping with Russell Westbrook. Kanter, dressed in street clothes that night, didn’t hesitate to stick up for his popular teammate in a very public manner. Notice the similarities?
Kanter has now gone after LeBron in various ways; social media, face-to-face, and mainstream media. It’s refreshing to see that there are some players who don’t care whether LeBron invites them to the next wine tasting or banana boat trip.
In the post-Carmelo Anthony era, the Knicks roster is now thankfully devoid of a LeBron surrogate.
But before we induct Kanter into the Tough Guy Hall of Fame let’s just remember that the Knicks failed to finish the job on Monday. The real sign of toughness, both mental and physical, is holding onto a 23-point third quarter lead against a team that has been lacking in the effort department all season.
Cleveland was going through the motions for nearly three quarters, forcing Tyronn Lue to bench his starters, including LeBron. The Cavs responded by scoring 43 fourth quarter points, the most by any team this season in the final period. But it wasn’t just LeBron’s offense that picked apart the Knicks in the fourth. His defense on Porzingis was exceptional.
And you want to praise the Knicks for showing grit and toughness?
LeBron, in a very Michael Jordan type of way, invented a little drama on the eve of his first game at his favorite arena and by the end of the night Cleveland had won for the third time in four games and improved its record to 7-7. That includes a 1-1 record against the Knicks. This is becoming a fun rivalry again.
There is one problem, however. The Knicks and Cavs don’t play again until the final three days of the regular season; April 9 at the Garden and two days later the season finale in Cleveland.
That’s poor scheduling for the fans but perhaps favorable to the Knicks. The last two games are when LeBron is usually resting for the playoffs.
But here’s an interesting scenario to consider; what if the Knicks need to win one of their final two games to clinch a playoff spot. Would LeBron play?
He’d certainly have incentive to do so. He’ll remember what Kanter said about him. Next time, the King won’t have to manufacture any drama.