LeBron James struggled from the start in his first game with Cleveland in four years, and the New York Knicks ruined the megastar's emotional homecoming with a 95-90 victory over the Cavaliers on Thursday night.
James, who returned to the Cavs and his native Ohio this summer after winning two NBA titles in Miami, finished with 17 points on 5-of-15 shooting. He also committed eight turnovers and never looked comfortable on a night when the entire city — and a star-studded crowd — celebrated his comeback.
Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points and buried a jumper with James in his face with 25 seconds left to give the Knicks a 92-87 lead.
Kyrie Irving scored 22 and Kevin Love added 19 points and 14 rebounds for the Cavs, who have some work to before they can start thinking about any titles.
Iman Shumpert and Jason Smith had 12 points apiece for the Knicks, who were embarrassed at home on Wednesday by Chicago.
James was greeted with a thunderous ovation before the game by Cleveland fans, who had been counting down the days until the opener since he announced his return in a touching essay on July 11.
This was more than a game for Cleveland. It was a homecoming, an event and a city-wide block party rolled into one.
The Knicks wrecked it.
New York, booed at times by the Madison Square Garden crowd a night earlier, built a seven-point lead in the third quarter and was up 86-77 on Anthony's bucket with 3:07 remaining.
With James unable to find his shot, Irving kept Cleveland close and his jumper brought the Cavs within 88-85 with 1:43 left. But J.R. Smith hit a jump shot, and after James made a driving layup, Anthony knocked down his baseline jumper with his good friend guarding him to put away the Cavs.
James started poorly, shooting just 1 of 9 from the field in the first half. He also had a miscommunication with Irving, who broke to the basket just as James was firing him a pass and the ball flew into the first row of seats right next to film director and super Knicks fan Spike Lee.
There are bound to be growing pains as the remodeled Cavs develop chemistry, but Cleveland's crowd seemed stunned when the Knicks were within 44-42 at halftime.
Cleveland's best highlights came before the game.
Afraid to miss a single moment, the sold-out crowd, which included pop star Justin Bieber, Browns players Johnny Manziel and Joe Haden, and R&B artist Usher, stood as soon as James emerged from the tunnel.
As tip-off approached, a new Nike commercial in which James huddles his teammates together and the entire city joins them, was shown on the Q's gargantuan new scoreboard. The crowd reacted throughout the poignant piece and James watched along with crowd from the bench, nodding his head in appreciation when it ended.
He's home, but he didn't come back just to reunite with friends and family. James wants to win a title for this title-starved town, which hasn't celebrated a pro sports championship since 1964.
The journey has started. It won't be easy.
Knicks: Coach Derek Fisher got a sense of the city's charged atmosphere on the bus ride from the hotel. "It's obviously electric here, but once the game starts it's five on five," he said. "We're not playing against everybody in Northeast Ohio." ... C Andrea Bargnani remains sidelined with a straight right hamstring. New York was also without starting PG Jose Calderon, who has a strained right calf and is expected to be out at least two weeks. Calderon underwent an MRI in New York.
Cavaliers: The Cavs are nearing agreements on contract extensions for centers Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson. Both are in the final seasons of their deals, and the club could have both locked up in coming days. Friday at midnight is the deadline for the team to finalize a deal for Thompson. ... Cleveland coach David Blatt's immediate family was in Israel and unable to attend. He was asked if he had any friends coming. "Me?" he said. "20,000. I'm a Clevelander now."
Knicks: Hosts Charlotte on Sunday.
Cavaliers: Visits Chicago on Friday.