This isn’t just scary because the Knicks lost a game to the Cavaliers Sunday at the Garden. It’s scary because the Cavaliers play in the Eastern Conference and they weren’t expected to be one of the conference’s risers.
Ricky Rubio, a former player for Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota, was traded to the Cavaliers in the offseason and played in an otherwordly zone Sunday, scoring a career-high 37 points, hitting 13 of 19 shots and going 8 of 9 from 3-point range.
The other day Thibodeau said the East is “loaded” and that was proven again for one evening when the likes of Rubio, rookie stud Evan Mobley and someone named Dylan Windler outclassing the Knicks in a 126-109 rout.
The Cavaliers, who have won four straight, now are ahead of the Knicks in the standings in moving to 7-4. The Knicks fell to 6-4 — losers of three of their past four. The losses came against Eastern rivals Toronto and Indiana — teams the Knicks finished ahead of last season.
Kemba Walker didn’t play, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for falling behind 89-75 after three quarters.
Rubio, whom Thibodeau nearly traded to the Knicks in 2017 for Derrick Rose, came off the bench to tear it up.
And there was more burgundy-and-yellow domination.
The third pick in the 2021 draft, Mobley added 26 points as the Knicks failed to guard him with any zeal. Mobley outplayed veteran Julius Randle. Windler, out of Belmont University, came out of nowhere to drill three clutch 3-pointers in the second half. Former Nets center Jarrett Allen was a force at the rim. He finished with 16 points and dunked twice on Nerlens Noel.
The Cavaliers shot 54 percent from 3-point land.
One of the bigger goats was the streaking RJ Barrett, who finally had an off night. Barrett shot 3 of 13 (0-for-6 from 3) for six points.
The Knicks face the Sixers on Monday and then the Bucks on Wednesday. The defending-champion Bucks will be seeking revenge after their depleted squad was routed by the Knicks on Friday.
With Walker taking a rest day on the first night of a back-to-back set, Rose started at point guard and Immanuel Quickley came off the bench as the backup point guard.
Before the game, JB Bickerstaff, the Cavaliers coach, didn’t seem relieved Walker would sit, knowing they still had to deal with Rose.
“Both guys are obviously extremely talented players,’’ Bickerstaff said. “As a basketball fan, it’s a pleasure to watch Derrick Rose the way he’s been playing. It doesn’t change much for us and stay with our same schemes.’’
Thibodeau, out of desperation to make up for Walker, plugged in rookie guard Quentin Grimes to start the fourth quarter. Grimes was the Knicks’ 2021 first-round pick, taken 25th.
The Cavaliers got off to a hot start and took a 15-7 lead after point guard Darius Garland hit Allen on a fast break with an alley-oop lob three minutes in.
The Knicks chipped away at the deficit as Barrett led the rally. In one sequence, Barrett collected a rebound and went coast to coast for a layup to forge a 17-17 tie.
Trailing 21-20, the Knicks went on a 8-0 run capped by two consecutive 3-pointers by Evan Fournier, who struggled shooting on the two-game trip to Indianapolis and Milwaukee. Fournier pumped in 13 points by intermission but wound up with 15.
The Knicks and Cavaliers essentially traded baskets in the second quarter with the Knicks coming out on top at the half, 57-56. But the Knicks were just 4 of 13 from 3-point range.
The Cavaliers’ most impressive player was the draft’s No. 3 pick, Mobley, who made 5 of 7 shots for 12 first-half points as the Knicks didn’t show enough defensive force on the rookie from USC. Rubio also was sharp, racking up 11 points.
Thibodeau has left open the possibility of Walker resting again Monday night but after this loss, that would seem doubtful.
Kentucky coach John Calipari, who has had influence on constructing the roster because of his ties with Knicks executives Leon Rose and William Wesley, was on hand to watch the collapse.
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