LeBron James was on the bench early in the fourth quarter, done for the afternoon with the Cavaliers leading by 28, when something made him leap out of his seat and left Knicks fans feeling nostalgic.
In their first games back at the Garden Sunday, former Knicks Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith hooked up for a highlight-reel dunk that had the building buzzing and everyone looking up at the Jumbotron for replays. The Knicks obliged.
Shumpert threw a lob to Smith, who was cutting baseline. He rose up, caught it, double-pumped and -- with his back to the basket -- threw it down over his head.
The Knicks called timeout, and a smiling Shumpert and Smith hugged on their way to the bench. Then Smith leaped toward James, who caught him and hugged him.
"That was beautiful," James said after the Cavaliers' 101-83 romp. "That was special. I was planning on not getting up too many times off the bench. I started my treatment session, but that was special."
It's all love and smiles when you're winning, and Cleveland (35-22) is doing plenty of that. The Cavaliers, who took control with a 36-17 first quarter, have won 16 of 18 games -- all since Smith and Shumpert were acquired in January.
They have to feel as if they've won the lottery. The two major contributors to the Knicks' 54-win team two seasons ago went from the NBA's worst team to one with a legitimate shot at winning a championship.
"I think it is great," Smith said. "Our mind-set has changed -- as opposed to trying to get a win to expecting to win every game we play. Just our whole approach is different. I feel as though both of us feel rejuvenated."
Said Shumpert, "I'm in a good place. We're playing good basketball. I can't be nothing but happy right now."
Smith shot 7-for-11, including 3-for-5 on three-pointers, and had 17 points and four assists. Shumpert came off the bench and had four points, five rebounds and seven assists.
Shumpert said the only thing that would have made the homecoming more special was if Carmelo Anthony had been there. But he had season-ending knee surgery Thursday, and the Knicks (10-45) dropped to 0-15 without him with their seventh consecutive defeat.
Smith, a New Jersey native, embraced his return and just about everyone from ushers to security guards to his former coaches and teammates. Before tipoff, he bent and tapped the Knicks' logo at midcourt.
"I look at it as a place I can always call home," he said.
Smith had other eyebrow-raising plays -- a windmill dunk and a banked three-pointer from the corner. But they were secondary to the alley-oop dunk.
"It felt great," said Smith, who was taken out after the rousing slam. "Honestly, it felt like the first time I actually met Shump, one of the first games, we threw a double alley-oop, and to end it like we did, it was something special. You couldn't have written it any better. The way we ended it, I think it was one for the books."
His coach agreed. "I even told him in the timeout, thank you for the price of admission," David Blatt said. "That was special, and really nice, too, that it was here in New York."
When Smith and Shumpert were traded, it signaled the start of the Knicks' fire sale and look to the future. Smith wasn't a good fit for the triangle offense, and everyone, including him, knew it. He said he feels more comfortable in the Cavaliers' more open style.
By dealing Smith, the Knicks got his $6.4-million salary for next season off their books. They should have roughly $30 million for free agency this summer, when they have to hope their record won't hurt their chances to sign top players.
Shumpert believes they will be successful. "Without a doubt," he said. "It's New York."