New York Knicks
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Monday night, the New York Knicks blew a golden opportunity to knock off the Cleveland Cavaliers at home. 

Monday night, the New York Knicks appeared destined to snatch their second win of the season versus the powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers. Up 23 points in the second half, their defense was holding the Cavs in check and offensively they were grinding out buckets. Then, they flat out blew it.

Playing suspect perimeter defense, cramping up on their jumpers and allowing LeBron James to take over towards the end, the Knicks blew a golden opportunity at executing a statement win. Losing 104-101 on their home court, the Knicks took their foot off the petal and paid the price.

Early on, the Knicks were having it their way. Pickpocketing on the defensive end, Frank Ntilikina especially — who forced five first half turnovers –, finishing off fastbreaks and limiting James’ impact, the Knicks were playing with cohesion and competing on both ends against one of the league’s most well-rounded squads, despite their 6-7 record going into Monday night.

Entering Monday evening’s contest, there was talk surrounding the Knicks which was centered around some bizarre comments made by James after the Cavs’ Saturday night win versus the Dallas Mavericks.

After going up against rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., James felt the need to say that the Knicks should’ve drafted him — which of course was an irrational and uncalled for remark. Based on him randomly bringing the Knicks into the equation, some players retaliated and had a strong reaction towards James, Enes Kanter in particular, per Adam Zagoria of the New York Times.

Kanter took offense to James basically saying the Knicks would be better off without Ntilikina — who the organization drafted over Smith. Monday night, those words and responses influenced the emotions of all three players involved — Ntilikina, Kanter, James.

After James converted an alley-oop dunk, he stared down Ntilikina, who then elbowed James twice. This incident led to Kanter getting in James’ face and the two exchanged shoves, which temporarily stopped play. One could argue that James’ comments only brought the Knicks together even more and showed how they’re a group on the same page. However, this moment could’ve been of more significance had they not endured a second-half collapse.

Late in the third quarter, the Knicks took a commanding 23-point lead and the Cavs looked shot. Settling for outside jumpers and playing lazy defense, the Cavs were showing no signs of life. But the Knicks woke the sleeping giant.

Granting the sharpshooting Kyle Korver with way too many open outside looks, the veteran made the Knicks pay. Draining five three-pointers in the second half and finishing the night with 21 points, Korver was a crucial part of the Cavs’ second half comeback. The other player who played a significant role in the Cavs’ heroic comeback was James (of course).

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 13: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates his three point shot to give the Cleveland Cavaliers the lead over the New York Knicks in the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden on November 13, 2017 in New York City.The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the New York Knicks 104-101. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Forcing the issue at the rim, serving as a facilitator — James finished the night with a game-high 12 assists — and taking Kristaps Porzingis out of the game in the fourth quarter, James took over late.

Porzingis, the heart and soul of this young Knicks’ roster, committed two early fouls and was shut down by James in the game’s waning moments. Not allowing him any space on the outside or in the post, James contained the Knicks’ focal point.

The reality is that while Porzingis has gotten off to a superb start this season, averaging 29.5 points per game, the Knicks need him to become more dominant in the low post and be harder to shut down. They also need more than just him, offensively, to thrive. And Tim Hardaway Jr. is beginning to look like he can pick up the slack, and serve as that secondary go-to option.

Finishing the night with a game-high 28 points, Hardaway was the Knicks’ leading source of offense. Whether it be attacking the rim, hitting the outside jumper, or pump faking on the outside and sticking a mid-range jumper, Hardaway put together yet another highly productive game versus Cleveland — he dropped 34 in Quicken Loans Arena back on Oct. 29.

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 13: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Enes Kanter #00 of the New York Knicks exchange words in the first half at Madison Square Garden on November 13, 2017 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Knicks looked like a complete team for three quarters on Monday night. They were moving the ball, playing tight, contested defense and looked like a group adept at playing with one another. But they couldn’t finish off the Cavs or put the game away.

While they may very well have grown closer as a unit with the James controversy and confrontation, the reality is that the Knicks blew a 23-point lead — which is inexcusable. It’s games like Monday night that can propel a team, such as the Cavs, to wake up and begin playing like the championship-caliber team the league is accustomed to. On the other hand, it’s the type of loss for a retooling team such as the Knicks that serves as a wake-up call that they still have a long way to go before they are an established Eastern Conference threat.

Had the Knicks blown their huge lead and then showcased resilience, pulling through for a win, then maybe the takeaway from Monday night is that they’re ready to compete in the East or, at the very least, are exceeding expectations in a big way.

Just 13 games into the regular season, there is obviously a long way to go. But Monday night, the Knicks blew a golden opportunity to prove themselves and make a number of noteworthy moments well worth it. Ultimately, they were unable to do so and had to take their medicine.

Robbie Stratakos is a New York Knicks/Giants Beat Writer for Elite Sports NY (ESNY); he also covers the NBA nationally. He previously wrote at Last Word On Pro Basketball and Empire Writes Back. In addition to writing for ESNY, Robbie is an MLB columnist at Baseball Essential. He previously wrote at HardBallScoop - part of Scout/CBS Interactive/247Sports, Last Word On Baseball and District On Deck. He is attending Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. Follow him on twitter @RPStratakos