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By Tom Withers | Associated Press
CLEVELAND -- On a night of celebration, there were two surprising, strange sights: LeBron James back on Cleveland’s bench. The Knicks back in the NBA playoff chase.
Anthony shook off a congested chest and a horrid shooting start to score 26 points, leading New York to its third straight victory, 107-97 over Cleveland on a Saturday when James was briefly reunited with the Cavaliers.
Amare Stoudemire added 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Knicks, whose winning streak began after a seven-game slide and amid reports Phil Jackson may accept a job in New York’s front office.
Anthony missed his first six shots, but found his touch in time to help the Knicks in their late-season run at the playoffs. J.R. Smith scored 17 and Tyson Chandler added 15 points and 11 boards for New York, which came in 3 1/2 games out of the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.
“You can see something different over the last couple of games,” Anthony said. “It seems like everyone has a sense of urgency right now. We’re playing for something. We control our own destiny. We want to win as many games as we can down the stretch.”
Kyrie Irving had 30 points, eight assists and eight rebounds for the Cavs, who retired center Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ No. 11 jersey at halftime. Spencer Hawes had 21 points for Cleveland, which dropped to 0-4 in March.
The Knicks were as good as done just a few days ago.
But with New York fans ready to write them off again, and coach Mike Woodson’s future looking shakier than ever, the Knicks have responded with wins over Minnesota, Utah and Cleveland. There’s still plenty of work to do, and the Knicks will likely need some help, but a dreadful season to this point has some hope.
“There’s no room for error,” Woodson said. “We have to play each possession like it’s our last possession. The mental approach is a little different now. It’s been a tough season for all of us. Now, they’re playing for something.”
The Knicks made four 3-pointers during a 14-1 run early in the fourth to take control.
With New York down 80-77, Pablo Prigioni drained a 3, Smith followed with a long-range shot and Prigioni dropped another 3 to give the Knicks an 88-81 lead. After a Cleveland turnover, Anthony made his fourth 3-pointer, putting the Knicks ahead by 10 with 7:38 left.
Cleveland never recovered and the Knicks outscored the Cavs 30-17 over the final 10 minutes.
The loss put a damper on an otherwise memorable night for the Cavs.
At halftime, they retired Ilgauskas’ jersey during a poignant ceremony. The big man overcame serious foot injuries early in his career to become the club’s career leader in rebounds, games played and blocked shots.
Ilgauskas thanked Cleveland fans during the ceremony, which included James sitting again on Cleveland’s sideline.
James, who famously left Cleveland as a free agent in 2010, kept a low profile as Ilgauskas’ jersey was raised to the rafters, but afterward he greeted his close friend and then posed for photos on the floor with former teammates Delonte West and Daniel “Boobie” Gibson.
Anthony said the long halftime break helped.
“It was good for me because I got some rest,” said Anthony, who was unaware James was at the game. “I got a chance to lay on the floor and let Z do his thing. He took some time up. I appreciate him for that.”
Anthony couldn’t buy a basket in the early minutes before heating up.
He scored nine straight points to help the Knicks open a 45-35 lead, and then made his sixth shot in a row, a 3-pointer, to give New York a 14-point cushion.
Hawes made consecutive 3-pointers to get the Cavs within six, but Smith dropped the first of his five 3-pointers and New York pushed its lead to 58-43.
Irving, though, closed the second quarter with seven quick points to pull the Cavs to 58-50 at halftime.
— The Knicks made 14 3s.
—Cavs C Anderson Varejao played nine minutes after missing the previous 12 games with a sore back.
— James flew in from Chicago to support Ilgauskas, his teammate for seven seasons in Cleveland. With the Heat playing on Sunday, James chartered a jet to witness the ceremony. Dressed smartly in a dark suit, James sat in a luxury suite during the first half before coming down to the floor at half to see Ilgauskas' jersey raised to the rafters.
— Beginning with a game in Phoenix on Wednesday, the Cavs will play six straight games -- three at home, three on the road -- against teams currently in the playoffs. After the Suns, Cleveland will travel to Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers before hosting Miami, Oklahoma City and Houston.