NEW YORK -- With two simple words, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue summed up both the tantalizing talent on his team and the reason that talent doesn't always translate on the court the way he wants it to.
The win was another example of the offensive exploits of LeBron James (25 points in 32 minutes), Kyrie Irving (28 points in 30 minutes) and Kevin Love (21 points in 27 minutes) -- the sixth time all three went for 20-plus points in the same game this season. The rest of the team poured it on as well, combining to set a season high in 3s by going 22-of-40 from deep.
It was the type of performance -- if you looked only at the offense -- that has caused Lue some concern in the early part of the season.
"You know, it comes easy for those guys," Lue said before the game. "And when it comes easy we tend to get caught up in the just back-and-forth instead of getting stops and taking on that tough grind-it-out game. So, I mean, when you got guys like Kyrie, Bron and Kevin who can score so easy, sometimes that just [becomes], 'Oh, you scored, but we know we can score the basketball.' So now we got to get back to playing Cavaliers basketball."
Then Cleveland went out and held its opponent to under 100 points and sub-42 percent shooting (its nightly goals) for the first time in six games; it swiped 11 steals, one short of its season high; and it took care of business inside by controlling the rebounding battle (46-43) and holding the Knicks to 28 points in the paint after Chicago abused the Cavs at the rim to the tune of 78 points less than a week ago.
"I mean, you can't rely on that," James said afterward when asked about the offensive potency of his group. "And obviously we have some great 3-point shooters and guys that can really spread the floor and make shots, but we try not to rely on it. We got to rely on defense. Our defense is what gets us out in the open court, what gets us spread, what gets us in a rhythm."
The Cavs came into the night tied for fourth in points per game (110.3) and alone in fourth in offensive efficiency. Meanwhile they were 17th in opponents' points allowed (105.1) and 17th in opponents' field goal percentage (45.0).
If there is one area the Cavs can improve in, it's defense. And with Golden State looming in the West -- with Klay Thompson dropping 60-spots and Kevin Durant enjoying the most efficient season of his career, making two-time MVP Stephen Curry the third option at times -- defense will be paramount should Cavs-Warriors III happen in June.
In a way, that makes guys like Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and the newly christened starting shooting guard DeAndre Liggins (while J.R. Smith recovers from a left knee injury) just as important as the Big Three. They have to bring the defense that allows those stars to shine on the other end.
"Bringing the defensive edge, being disruptive," Liggins said, describing his marching orders in Smith's stead.
It is making a difference, as the Cavs have won their last two games with Liggins taking a bigger role. Before that, they had dropped three in a row.
"He doesn't need much out on the floor," James said. "I think it starts with just his defensive mindset. His ability to pick up guys 94 feet and just get them out their rhythm and things of that nature, and he's always around the ball giving us a great boost the last couple games and we're going to need that moving forward."
Thompson, who finished one shy of his career high with 20 rebounds against the Knicks, also figures into that defensive mix.
"For me, looking at those losses, the ways I could have been better was protecting the rim and rebounding and limiting teams to only one shot," he said. "Those games, teams outrebounded us and I take responsibility in that because that's my role and that's what I bring to this team. Whenever we have games where we get outrebounded, I take that real personal. So I just had to be better."
With things being so easy for the Cavs since that epic comeback against the Warriors -- all the adulation, all the contract extensions, all the early season wins stacking up -- the real challenge is now drumming up the proper urgency for their title defense by, well, bettering the defense.
"Just continue to show them the mistakes they're making, but also show them the things that they're doing right," Lue said of how he plans to keep the Cavs' D locked in. "Keep hitting them with it."