NEW YORK - Not quite Kobe Bryant. Definitely vintage LeBron James.
James scored a season-high 52 points in his 21st career triple-double, joined Michael Jordan as the only visitors with multiple 50-point games at the present Madison Square Garden, and led Cleveland to a 107-102 victory over New York on Wednesday night.
Two nights after Bryant set a record at the present building with 61 points, James was on pace to break it after scoring 20 in the first quarter.
His scoring eventually tailed off a bit, especially after he briefly left the game in the fourth quarter after cramping up, but the skills that make him perhaps the NBA’s premier all-around player remained throughout.
“I don’t go out there for the numbers, I just play my game,” James said. “You guys seen every phase of my game tonight, the scoring, the rebounding, the assists and defensively just trying to attack the opposing team.
“I never thought you could look at the box score and see somebody with 50 with a triple-double, but it’s happened.”
James added 11 assists and 10 rebounds, becoming the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975 to have a triple-double in a 50-point game. James grabbed his final rebound with under 2 seconds left, then tumbled out of bounds as time expired.
“A pretty impressive triple-double,” Cleveland’s Wally Szczerbiak said. “I bet his fantasy owners are pretty happy.”
They were similar numbers to James’ game in New York last March, when he finished with 50 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Jordan is the only other visiting player to twice score 50 here, with a high of 55 that was the opponent record before Bryant broke it Monday night.
“The sad thing is that I’m sure LeBron said that it’s no big deal to get 61 points,” Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “I’ll just get a triple-double. (Kobe) didn’t do that.”
Zydrunas Ilgauskas scored 15 points, and Szczerbiak had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who have won four straight and eight of nine. They are off until a showdown with Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday in Cleveland, where the Cavaliers are 23-0.
Al Harrington scored 39 points for the Knicks, who fell to 0-2 during they’re referring to as “Dream Week,” games against the Lakers, Cavs and Boston Celtics. David Lee had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The focus on James’ first trip here in November was his free agency in 2010, days after the Knicks made a pair of trades to clear salary cap space for a run at him. This time, the building was still buzzing from Bryant’s performance, and the talk was on whether James could top it.
He said he wouldn’t try — unless the situation called for it.
“We go out and try to win ball games. Myself and Kobe go out and win ball games and sometimes we make games like that,” James said before the game.
“It just so happens where we get high numbers or we make an unbelievable play. It just happens that way. But we’re out there first of all trying to win the basketball game. I never go into a game saying I’m going to try to put up a decent amount of numbers or anything like that. I’ve never been that type of player.”
Yet he was looking for his own shot to start and was ahead of Bryant’s pace early on, draining a jumper at the buzzer to give him 20 points in the first quarter — two more than Bryant had — and Cleveland a 36-24 lead.
“I felt a few shots go in and just continued to try to work that hand and just try to see if I was really feeling hot, and I was able to knock a few shots down,” James said.
The Knicks used a 16-3 spurt to cut a 14-point deficit to 43-42 midway through the second, but the Cavs came out of a timeout with a play that led to an alley-oop pass for James’ dunk. He had 28 in the half, then found Ben Wallace alone for a layup as time expired that sent Cleveland to the locker room with a 57-52 advantage.
Unlike Monday, when the MSG crowd loudly cheered for Bryant, the fans were behind the Knicks in this one. They responded with a spirited performance after being blown out in the previous two meetings with Cleveland — James didn’t even play in the fourth quarter of either — and were down only one with 2 minutes to play.
James then scored on a drive to give him 50 points, and set up Ilgauskas for a bucket that gave the Cavs breathing room at 104-100 with 52 seconds remaining.
Notes: Eddy Curry rejoined the Knicks on Wednesday after taking a leave from the team to attend the funeral for an ex-girlfriend and her daughter who were shot to death in Chicago. D’Antoni said he wasn’t sure when Curry, who has been sidelined almost all season because of knee problems, would begin practicing again. ... With Delonte West still out and Sasha Pavlovic not with the Cavs because of the flu, Szczerbiak made his second straight start. ... Wallace, among the worst free throw shooters ever, airballed an attempt from the line in the first quarter.
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