NEW YORK — Leading by nine points with just under four minutes remaining, it appeared that the Knicks would have company at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
But the Cavaliers wanted no part of that. They used a late 12-0 run to overcome their deficit and post a 125-118 victory Thursday night.
Kevin Love led the Cavs with 26 points. Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton each had 22 and Cedi Osman added 21 as Cleveland (15-47) avoided landing in the basement alongside the Knicks (13-49).
“When we’re sharing the ball, it’s fun to be out there,” Sexton said. “We were down in the fourth quarter and we all came together and said ‘We have to win this.’ We got the ‘W’ and that’s really the most important thing.”
Cleveland has now won three of its last four games, while the Knicks had their modest two-game winning streak snapped.
Allonzo Trier led New York with 22 points.
The Knicks led by as many as 14 early in the fourth quarter and were ahead 113-104 following Kevin Knox’s jumper with 3:51 left.
But Sexton’s three-point play and layup brought Cleveland within 113-109.
After Knox followed with two free throws, the Cavs scored the next 12 points.
“We always felt we were in the game,” Love said. “I told Collin he really won us the game. I thought Cedi played exceptional and JC (Clarkson) came up and hit a big shot for us. We just executed down the stretch.”
New York led by nine points in the second quarter. But, a 20-10 run culminated by Ante Zizic’s short hook with 3:07 left in the first half gave the Cavs their first lead, 51-50.
Mitchell Robinson’s alley-oop dunk gave the Knicks a 59-57 halftime lead. Dennis Smith Jr., who finished with 16 points, increased New York’s lead to 97-85 on a four-point play with 3 seconds left in the third and Damyean Dotson increased the advantage to 14 by opening the final quarter with a bucket.
“Any win we get feels good. I don’t care who it is against,” said Cavs coach Larry Drew. “With the struggles that we have had this year and what we had to deal with from an injury standpoint, being down players, any win is a good win.”
Noah Vonleh finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Knicks. Henry Ellenson scored 13 points, Robinson had 12 and Emmanuel Mudiay and Lance Thomas each scored 10.
“We totally let our foot off the gas. We got casual,” Knicks coach David Fizdale. “We got up 10 and decided that we weren’t going to get back on defense. We got a little full of ourselves thinking that we had the game. They made us pay for it.”
Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson, who leads the Cavaliers with 11.1 rpg, has missed 17 straight games with a sore left foot. . Sexton is the only Cavalier to play in all 62 games this season.
Knicks: New York has lost 10 straight games to the Cavaliers at Madison Square Garden. They last defeated Cleveland there in a 117-86 blowout on January 30, 2014. ... DeAndre Jordan (sprained left ankle) missed his third consecutive game and Frank Ntilikina (groin injury) has now missed 14 straight.
The Cavaliers have beaten the Knicks in all three meetings this season. They have swept the season series for the third time in four years and have won 15 of the last 18 meetings between the teams.
The Knicks used the same starting lineup (Smith Jr., Dotson, Knox, Thomas, and Vonleh) for the third straight game. New York hadn’t utilized the same starting five in three consecutive games since January 7-11. Only Knox and Vonleh were members of that quintet. The other starters during that stretch were Luke Kornet, Mudiay and the since-departed Tim Hardaway Jr.
Hittin’ the road
After playing four straight games at home, the Knicks go west for a three-game road trip which will take them to California (LA Clippers, Sacramento Kings) and Arizona (Phoenix Suns). After a quick stop back at Madison Square Garden for a rematch with the Kings, New York travels to the Midwest and Southwest for games against the Timberwolves, Pacers and Spurs.
Cavaliers: Hosts Detroit on Saturday.
Knicks: Visits the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.