NEW YORK — The Knicks have heard it from the fans and media all season. When the criticisms started coming from their coach, it was time to respond.
David Lee scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half, Jamal Crawford added 21, and New York beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 108-90 Wednesday for its most lopsided victory of the season.
Two nights after Isiah Thomas publicly questioned their heart and toughness, the Knicks (8-17) had all the answers. New York shot a season-best 56.2 percent from the field and led by as many as 24 points in their most complete effort during a disappointing first 25 games.
“It was really a bit of an embarrassment and discouragement just after Monday’s game, getting beat by 30 points in a quarter,” Lee said of New York’s 119-92 loss to Indiana. “Having the fans and the media have it get to the point that it is now, we knew we had to come out tonight and give it our best.”
Hours after a rally for fans who wanted Thomas fired, the Knicks won for only the second time in eight games. Zach Randolph had 17 points and Quentin Richardson added 16.
“It’s our job to go out there and play hard, and play with pride and heart like he said,” Richardson said. “Regardless of anything else that’s going on, it’s our job to go out and play with full effort.”
LeBron James had 32 points, eight rebounds and six assists for Cleveland, which has lost nine of 11. The Cavaliers had little energy two nights after a double-overtime victory over Milwaukee, and Drew Gooden was the only other player in double figures with 11 points.
Cavaliers coach Mike Brown looked disgusted with his team, twice walking onto the court in the fourth quarter even before his timeout had been granted — bumping into James on the second one.
“Defensively, this is one of the worst performances that I’ve ever been a part of,” Brown said. “And it starts with me.”
A day that could have turned into a referendum on Thomas’ tenure in New York instead ended with his team getting a number of ovations. Many fans stood and cheered as the Knicks walked off the floor at halftime with a 13-point lead — though there were still a few “Fire Isiah!” chants in the closing minutes of the game.
“I understand how important it is to make people feel good when they leave this arena,” Thomas said. “That is what we are trying to do. We understand the frustration and we want to please them.”
Earlier Wednesday, two dozen fans rallied outside Madison Square Garden, holding a signed 8-by-4-foot pink placard urging Garden chairman James Dolan to fire Thomas.
“I continue to stress he’s not playing, he’s coaching,” Crawford said. “There’s only so much he can do from the sideline. So the players he puts out there have to make it happen.”
At the game, one fan held a pink sign reading: I am at the last game Isiah ever coached, and the Daily News printed a large block letter sign in Wednesday’s editions reading “FIRE ISIAH,” saying it was meant to be held up during the “next Knicks blowout.”
It was a blowout all right — just not the kind the Knicks are usually in.
Richardson fueled the Knicks’ strong start, making three 3-pointers and scoring 11 points to help the Knicks take a 31-30 lead. Lee had three buckets during a 10-2 spurt that extended the lead to 53-43, and New York had its biggest lead of the season when two free throws by Fred Jones made it a 15-point game with 27 seconds left in the half.
“We let them shoot 56 percent from the field. That’s not a good defensive effort,” James said. “I don’t know if it’s the worst we’ve ever played defensively. That’s what Coach thinks.”
The Knicks were up 63-50 at halftime after shooting 59 percent.
The Cavs made the first basket of the third quarter, but Crawford hit two 3s and Richardson added another in a 13-0 spurt, with Crawford’s 19-footer making it 76-52 with 8:37 remaining in the period. The Knicks led 87-70 heading to the fourth.
Notes:@ Point guard Stephon Marbury, mostly away from the team recently after the recent death of his father, was in uniform but didn’t play. Marbury had rejoined the team Sunday and played Monday, but didn’t practice Tuesday on what would have been Donald Marbury’s birthday. … The Knicks entered last in the league in field goal percentage defense and blocked shots per game. They were allowing teams to shoot 48.5 percent, well above the league average of 45.2. … It was New York’s first victory against a team other than New Jersey since beating Milwaukee on Nov. 30.
Knicks 108, Cavaliers 90
CLEVELAND (90): Gooden 4-9 3-4 11, James 12-21 5-6 32, Ilgauskas 3-8 1-1 7, Pavlovic 3-10 0-0 7, Gibson 2-4 1-3 7, Varejao 3-7 1-3 7, Hughes 3-10 2-2 8, D.Brown 2-4 0-0 4, Newble 3-6 0-0 7, Dw.Jones 0-0 0-2 0, Da.Jones 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 35-80 13-21 90.
NEW YORK (108): Randolph 7-13 3-4 17, Richardson 6-12 0-0 16, Curry 4-5 2-4 10, Jones 1-2 2-2 5, Crawford 7-15 4-4 21, Lee 9-12 4-4 22, Jeffries 2-2 0-2 4, Robinson 5-10 1-1 11, Rose 0-1 2-4 2, Balkman 0-0 0-0 0, Collins 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 41-73 18-25 108.
Cleveland 30 20 20 20 — 90
New York 31 32 24 21 — 108
3-Point Goals—Cleveland 7-20 (James 3-6, Gibson 2-3, Newble 1-2, Pavlovic 1-4, Da.Jones 0-1, D.Brown 0-1, Varejao 0-1, Hughes 0-2), New York 8-17 (Richardson 4-6, Crawford 3-6, Jones 1-1, Robinson 0-2, Randolph 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Cleveland 40 (James 8), New York 52 (Lee 11). Assists—Cleveland 16 (James 6), New York 17 (Crawford 6). Total Fouls—Cleveland 21, New York 19. A—18,704 (19,763).