After one of the biggest rallies of his career, LeBron James saved his best comeback for last.
Not only did LeBron lead an epic revival, helping the Cleveland Cavaliers overcome a 23-point deficit to stun the New York Knicks 104-101, but emotions boiled over between him and the Knicks’ Enes Kanter. The pair were both assessed technical fouls in the first quarter after Kanter came to the defense of rookie Frank Ntilikina, who was bumping chests with James.
According to ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin, Kanter had this to say about defending Ntilikina and his first-quarter exchange with James:
“He’s a rookie. You call yourself ‘King’ or whatever. But you can’t just mess with a rookie like that. If you’re going to mess with [someone], go mess with the grown men. I’ll die for my teammates. Whatever happens, I got my teammates’ back because I see this team, this organization, like my family. Nobody is going to mess with it.”
When James was asked about the incident, he brushed it aside.
“Nothing,” he said. “We got the win. I’m not going to get, uh, I’m not going to say that guy’s name again, anyway.”
After the game, Ntilikina shrugged off his confrontation with James.
“He was in my way to get the ball, to get the ball out of bounds,” Ntilikina said. “It could have been anyone, so I just pushed him to get the ball in. He was in my way. It could have been anyone.”
The French point guard had been the topic of discussion this week after James said Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. “should be a Knick.” (New York took Ntilikina one pick earlier, at No. 8.)
Before last night’s game, LeBron addressed his Ntilikina-Smith Jr. comments, saying he wasn’t ‘throwing shade’ at the Knicks’ top rookie. James also took some shots at Kanter, who had defended Ntilikina in the days after James’ comments.
After the game, Kanter took a shot at LeBron, saying: “I’ll tell you one thing, this team is really special. You ain’t coming to my house and playing that water bottle flip game again. I don’t care who you are. What do you call yourself, ‘King,’ ‘Queen,’ ‘Princess,’ whatever you are. We’re going to fight. Nobody out there is going to punk us. We went out there and played our game. We’re going to go out there and get better every day.”
“Whatever you wanna call yourself – king, queen, princess, whatever – we’re gonna fight… and nobody’s gonna punk us”
😳 Wow. Enes Kanter is FED UP (and is quickly becoming a fan favorite) pic.twitter.com/ytVqf0GJ13
— Andrew Claudio (@AndrewJClaudio) November 14, 2017
When told of Kanter’s comments, LeBron responded with the real royalty: “Well, I’m the King, my wife is the Queen and my daughter’s the Princess, so we’ve got all three covered.”
.@KingJames responds to @Enes_Kanter "King, Queen, Princess" comments. #GameTime pic.twitter.com/HWRkgpeWc9
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 14, 2017
Last season, James and several of his teammates flipped water bottles at the end of the bench late in Cleveland’s 126-94 win against the Knicks. Kanter at that time was still playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
James also got in a final shot on former Knicks president Phil Jackson after the game, too, writes McMenamin. James admitted before last night’s game that Jackson was the target of his comments in the Ntilikina-Smith Jr. discussion.
“They’re playing some good basketball,” James said of the Knicks. “I think Jeff, the coach, Jeff Hornacek is finally — with the release of the old fella, he’s finally allowed to implement what he wants to do on the team and he’s showing it’s very effective.”
The “old fella” he was referring to is the 72-year-old Jackson. James flashed a smile before he said it.
All of this back and forth followed an enormous comeback from the Cavs, in which they erased a 23-point deficit — 15 to start the fourth quarter — by scoring 43 in the final period. It was the second-biggest rally on the road in James’ career and possibly, thanks to the war of words and Garden stage, the most memorable.
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