NEW YORK — LeBron James‘ and Enes Kanter‘s war of words spilled onto the court in Monday’s game between the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers — and once again, Knicks rookie Frank Ntilikina was stuck in the middle of it.
James converted an alley-oop with 40.2 seconds left in the first quarter of Cleveland’s 104-101 win over New York to put the Cavs up by one. He immediately crowded Ntilikina, bumping his chest into the point guard while he tried to free himself up to receive the inbounds pass, causing Ntilikina to shove his forearm back into James.
Kanter then intervened and he and James barked at one another before referee Tre Maddox came in to separate the two. James and Kanter were both assessed a technical foul.
Said Kanter of the exchange with James: “He’s a rookie. You call yourself King or whatever. But you can’t just mess with a rookie like that. If you’re going to mess with (someone) go mess with the grown men. I’ll die for my teammates. Whatever happens I got my teammates’ back because I see this team, this organization, like my family. Nobody is going to mess with it.”
When James was asked about the incident, he brushed it aside. “Nothing, we got the win. I’m not going to get, uh, I’m not going to say that guy’s name again, anyway.”
“Of course it was tough. We were up by 20-something I think and we gave up 40-something points in the fourth quarter,” said Kanter after the game. “I think if you look at it, we fight really hard. We played with a lot of energy. I’ll tell you one thing this team is really special. You ain’t coming to my house and playing that water bottle flip game again.
I don’t care who you are. What do you call yourself, King, Queen, Princess, whatever you are. We’re going to fight. Nobody out there is going to punk us. We went out there and played our game. We’re going to go out there and get better every day.”
James replied, “Well, I’m the king, my wife is the queen and my daughter’s the princess, so we’ve got all three covered.”
James elaborated on his position at the Cavs’ morning shootaround Monday, saying his critique was meant for former Knicks president Phil Jackson and that he wasn’t “throwing shade at Frank at all.”
“They’re playing some good basketball,” James said in his postgame news conference. “I think Jeff, the coach, Jeff Hornacek is finally (smiles), with the release of the old fella, he’s finally allowed to implement what he wants to do on the team and he’s showing it’s very effective.”
Kanter was the first Knicks player to come to Ntilikina’s defense on Twitter on Saturday night, and backed up his support at practice Sunday.
“I don’t care who, I just cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that, because when I play for an organization, I see my teammates and that organization as like a family,” Kanter told reporters. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s LeBron or whoever it is, I cannot just let him disrespect him like that. The coaches, the GMs, the president, this organization knows what they’re doing. … I mean, come on. That’s a rookie. You cannot just say anything like that about him.
“I don’t care, it doesn’t matter LeBron or whoever it is. I don’t care who. I cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that.”
James laughed off Kanter’s rebuttal on Monday.
“For Enes Kanter, who always got something to say,” James said. “He says … I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”
The chippy play between both teams continued in the second quarter when Kyle O’Quinn fouled Jeff Green in transition and landed hard on the Cavs forward. Injured Cleveland guard Isaiah Thomas was so fired up by the contact he received a technical foul for his reaction on the bench.