for this game

Lee, Knicks respond to fans, rout Cavaliers

Dec 20, 2007 - 4:12 AM By Larry Fleisher PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

NEW YORK (Ticker) -- Fans at Madison Square Garden have spent most of the season booing poor play and calling for coach Isiah Thomas' firing. For one night, the crowd had plenty of reasons to express themselves differently.

David Lee collected 22 points and 11 rebounds to lead six players in double figures as the Knicks heard cheers Wednesday night in a 108-90 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who got 32 points from LeBron James.

"It has been a while," Lee said of the fans' positive reaction. "It is good to have that happen, glad to hear everybody positive."

Jamal Crawford scored 21 points for the Knicks, who won for just the second time in their last eight games.

"I thought tonight that our attitude matched the abilty of the team," Thomas said. "When we play with the right attitude for 48 minutes, we can be a good basketball team. But the key for us is to sustain this level of play in terms of attitude matching the ability."

Zach Randolph added 17 points, Quentin Richardson chipped in 16 and Nate Robinson contributed 11 for New York, which shot a blistering 56 percent (41-of-73) from the field. Eddy Curry played just two minutes in the first half and finished with 10 points.

New York's eighth win in 25 games overall came just two days after getting outscored, 55-28, in the final 15-plus minutes to the Indiana Pacers en route to a 119-92 loss. The ugly defeat led to Thomas spending most of his six-minute press conference ripping into his players effort and competitiveness.

While some teams may not have responded to Thomas' blunt assessment, it seemed to have a direct correlation to the Knicks play as they shot over 50 percent for just the third time all season and also turned in their best shooting performance of the season.

"I think it was a direct connection, honestly," Crawford said. "Him challenging us because he's not one to come out and say things negative. And I still don't think it was negative. I think he challenged us and I think he did a great job of it."

It also further renewed the venom for Thomas. But that came to a halt for most of Wednesday night as the Knicks opened two leads of more than 20 points and withstood Cleveland's comeback attempts in the second half.

Cleveland coach Mike Brown had a similar reaction after his team shot under 44 percent (35-of-80) and never led in the final three quarters. Unlike Thomas, Brown blamed himself for Cleveland's sixth loss by at least 15 points.

"We got our behinds kicked, starting with me," Brown said. "I am embarrased. You can't take anything away from the Knicks. They did what they were supposed to do.

"We think we can show up and we think we are going to win the game. They did what they wanted. They drove by us. They shot threes. If guys on our team thought we defended tonight, we are going to be in trouble."

Crawford scored eight points in the third as the Knicks opened with three straight 3-pointers and took an 87-70 edge into the fourth after holding a 23-point lead. They remained firmly in control the rest of the way and cruised to their largest win of the season.

The only time Cleveland provided a comeback was early in the third when James scored eight straight points to cut New York's lead to 78-63 with 6:42 remaining. The Cavaliers got no closer than 14 the rest of the way.

"We couldn't get stops," James said. "We started to make a run but they kept hitting shots. We made an 8-0 run, we took (the deficit) from 20 points to 12 but we couldn't get stops."

Despite one of New York's best performances of the season, fans still showed their displeasure for Thomas. Earlier Wednesday, a long-time season-ticket holder held a rally outside MSG with a large pink slip calling for owner James Dolan to fire Thomas, who is three days shy of his fourth anniversary on the job.

Hours after the protest, Thomas' team was able to enjoy a mostly positive reaction from the crowd, who had booed most of the starters during pregame introductions.

"That's great," Thomas said. "We really want to please the fans and we want everybody in the arena feeling good and feeling like they had a good time."

Lee led the charge in the first half as New York opened a 63-50 lead at the half. He had 10 of his 17 points during a 20-10 run that closed the half and saw the energetic forward get three dunks.

James added eight rebounds and six assists for Cleveland, which has lost three of its last four and has not won consecutive games in nearly a month.

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