"He was as good as that other No. 23 I played against," Thomas said. "He was exceptional. He wasn't going to let his team lose."
James scored 45 points and Daniel Gibson made four 3-pointers -- three off passes from James -- in just over two minutes in the fourth quarter to rally the Cavaliers past the Knicks 110-106 on Friday night.
Playing with more energy, James bounced back from a 10-point performance in a season-opening loss to Dallas by scoring the most points ever by a Cleveland player against New York. World B. Free dropped 39 on the Knicks in 1984.
After looking unworthy of calling themselves defending Eastern Conference champions against the Mavericks, the Cavaliers got big plays from James, big shots from Gibson and a big win before embarking on a tough, six-game road trip out West.
Gibson, Cleveland's shooting star in last season's playoffs, finished with six 3-pointers and 24 points. He made four 3s in a span of 2:17 of the fourth, when the Cavaliers turned a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead.
"When he's that open, it's almost like a practice shot," James said.
Three of Gibson's 3-pointers came off assists by James, who drew double- and triple-teams before finding his sweet-shooting sidekick.
"That's the thing about LeBron that everybody loves," Gibson said. "He had 45 but he's still finding his teammates and getting everybody involved."
The Cavaliers trailed 86-83 when Gibson, sporting a haircut with a star shaved into his head, began hitting 3s. It was almost a replay of Game 6 in last season's conference finals, when he buried Detroit by scoring 19 points in the fourth to send the Cavs into the NBA finals for the first time.
The Knicks never recovered.
"It was very fast," Jamal Crawford said. "That gave them some life. It got away from us."
Crawford scored 25 points and Zach Randolph had 21 points and 14 rebounds in his debut with the Knicks, who were finally playing a meaningful game following a turbulent offseason that included a jury finding Thomas and Madison Square Garden had sexually harassed a former team executive.
The Knicks had built their lead by pounding the ball inside to Randolph and Eddy Curry, who finished with 18 points. Curry, though, missed five free throws and the Knicks went 14-of-23 from the line.
"Overall, I was pleased with our effort," Thomas said. "We had to do a better job at the foul line. If we could do a better job from the foul line, it's a different ballgame. In a six-point basketball game, it's the little things that beat you."
With the Cavs in jeopardy of falling to 0-2, James and Gibson teamed up to turn things around, combining to score 20 straight points in the fourth.
Gibson's 3-pointer tied it 86-all, and James converted a three-point play before Gibson's second straight 3 made it 92-87. After Stephon Marbury countered with a 3 for New York, Gibson floated into the corner as James drew a double-team.
Gibson found an open spot, caught a soft pass from James and dropped in his third 3-pointer in less than two minutes to put Cleveland up 95-90.
Following a turnover by New York, Gibson came down and knocked down his fourth straight 3, a shot that had Cavaliers fans thinking about last spring's memorable night when Cleveland clinched the East at home.
"LeBron will get guys open shots," Robinson said. "You have to pray they miss them, but Gibson didn't."
Less than an hour before tipoff, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown summoned James to his office for a talk. If Brown's message was to be more assertive, Cleveland's superstar listened and then went right at the Knicks.
He scored 23 points in the first half as he continually pushed the ball toward the basket or posted up his defenders.
"I didn't think I played Wednesday night with the energy I needed to play with," James said. "The guys feed off me."
It was James' 18th career game of 40 points or more. ... Like everyone, James has been keeping an eye on the unfolding Kobe Bryant drama. Part of James wouldn't mind if Bryant ended up in the East. "As a competitor, I would love to play against Kobe Bryant four times a year," he said. "As a fan, it's almost like when Mike (Jordan) played for the Wizards. You really can't see Kobe playing for anyone but the Lakers." ... The Knicks are 36-26 in openers. ... Cavs F/G Sasha Pavlovic ended his holdout and signed a three-year contract extension on Wednesday, but the Serbia native wasn't able to play until he sorted through immigration red tape. He got his U.S. visa on Friday and is expected to practice Saturday.