What a weird Laker team this is, right?
After the Lakers team that was missing Anthony Davis and LeBron James upset Boston, they followed it up by stopping another hot team in the New York Knicks. The Lakers went into Madison Square Garden and defeated the Knickerbockers, 113-105 (one point away from that final score against Boston last Thursday, by the way).
It was a lot of back and forth between the two teams in the first three quarters of the game. Neither team led by double digits at the time but Jalen Brunson was really putting the pressure against the Lakers as they led, 86-80, going into the fourth quarter.
Then the Lakers came out hot. They scored the first 9 points of the fourth (making it an overall 11-0 run) to take the lead back. A Donte DiVincenzo three gave New York a 96-94 lead.
That’s when the clamps came out. The Lakers would not let Jalen Brunson be alone and dared the others to beat them. The Knicks couldn’t score. And they couldn’t do so for a long time. In the meantime, Taurean Prince (who came off the bench for the first time this season) scored the first 6 points of a slow, torturous 11-0 run by the Lakers. New York could not put it in the hole in what seemed like forever.
After 6 minutes and 46 seconds of game time, the Knicks finally scored. But by then, it was way too late. The foul game had to be played but the Lakers made all 8 free throws to close out the game. The Knicks’ 9-game winning streak is over and in a way, you just kind of have to laugh about what the Lakers have done in the last three days compared to the rest of their season.
They may lose Jarred Vanderbilt for the season (at least, that’s been bandied about). But the defense here was very impressive against a red hot Knickerbocker team. Taurean Prince wasn’t the ideal guy to put on Brunson but once the Lakers started sending multiple defenders towards him, life became difficult for these Knicks. As mentioned, the Knicks didn’t score for nearly 7 minutes in the fourth quarter against that swarming Laker defense and that was essentially the game right there. And we wonder again why the Lakers can’t do this on a consistent basis. They just beat Boston and New York on the road and they’re both Top 3 teams in the Eastern Conference. It’s baffling, to say the least.
At the same time, the Lakers went with a familiar line-up to start the game with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, D’Angelo Russell, and Rui Hachimura. It’s always good to start the game with continuity. Prince came off the bench for the first time this year and it actually ended up paying dividends. Max Christie and Jaxson Hayes also looked really good out there.
Yes, the Knicks didn’t have OG Anunoby, Quentin Grimes, and Julius Randle; they really missed them out there. But again, no one’s going to feel sorry for teams missing players; it’s hard to have the entire team stay healthy. But Brunson was just so good and he was getting really good help from Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart, and Isaiah Hartenstein. They just kind of ran out of options once the Lakers took Brunson out of the game.
Sure, the Lakers were -13 in rebounding against New York. And the Knicks outscored them in second chance points, 17-2. But it’s that 7-minute stretch where the Lakers shut them out that was the real key in the game.
LeBron James didn’t have a huge game statistically (24-5-5) but he was awesome defensively in the fourth quarter. Austin Reaves had another excellent performance (22-6-7) after setting season-highs in points in the last two games. Anthony Davis just seemed to be a one-man rebounding machine for the Lakers; he finished with 12 points and 18 boards. Taurean Prince’s first game off the bench this season resulted in 16 points.
Jalen Brunson scored 36 points and dished out 10 assists but it wasn’t enough to extend the Knicks’ win streak. Donte DiVincenzo had 26 points. And Josh Hart, the third of the ‘Nova Knicks, had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
It’s still hard to trust this Laker momentum even with their two biggest wins of the season. It would be so like them to lose their following game against the lowly Charlotte Hornets. But if they do win in Charlotte, they would end the road trip with an impressive 4-2 slate and maybe we can take this Laker team a tad more seriously when they get back to Los Angeles. Maybe.