LeBron James bursts the Knicks’ bubble as the Lakers star dazzles with 24 points in a 113-105 win for LA at Madison Square Garden
As the Lakers flew into New York for an excellent matchup with the Knicks, you’d be hard-pressed to find two teams on more opposite courts.
Things have gotten dark enough for the Lakers lately that LeBron James’ agent, Rich Paul, felt it necessary to declare this week that his client will not be traded.
The Knicks, meanwhile, just had their best month in 30 years – and point guard Jalen Brunson is getting genuine MVP buzz.
On Saturday, if only for a few hours, these divergent paths crossed, and it was the Lakers who came out on top with a solid 113-105 win over their shorthanded hosts.
Playing without OG Anunoby, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Quentin Grimes, New York ended up struggling to score as the Lakers (who were also without Jarred Vanderbilt) pinned their hosts.
With the team riding a nine-game winning streak before the game, Knicks fans were unsurprisingly in good shape. James was the only Laker cheered during pregame introductions — and it was a massive ovation that way — while the crowd booed him later in the second quarter when he stood at the foul line after a questionable decision.
LeBron James threw down an early dunk after D’Angelo Russell bounced the ball back to him
Jalen Brunson drives to the basket against the Lakers on Saturday night at MSG
James said before the game that he considered joining the Knicks in free agency in 2010, and he wasted little time giving his future fans a show.
About three minutes later, he intercepted a pass and threw it to a wide open D’Angelo Russell on the other end. However, to the delight of the crowd, Russell refused to shoot himself and instead let the ball bounce off the ground for James to dive home.
The Knicks found that kind of close look easier to convert early on, as they shot just 25 percent from three-point land in the first quarter. The home team, in particular, was behind two starters in OG Anunoby and Julius Randle, and it was evident when they leaned heavily on Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo for the scoring.
The Lakers led 27-25 after one, and after the teams largely traded buckets in the second quarter, the Lakers went up five with 3:01 left in the half after a Taurean Prince three.
It wasn’t a huge lead by any means, but a mini-run by the Lakers could have given the game a different feel heading into the half, after what had been a close game up to that point.
Instead, the Knicks dug their heels in and tied the game at 59-59 to end the period.
Brunson’s recent play has, deservedly, put him in the MVP discussion for this season
Anthony Davis reacts after a dunk against Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55
The game reached a fever pitch in the third quarter. A wide-open Isaiah Hartenstein dunk turned the volume up about midway through the period — making the lead six — but The Garden reached deafening levels after a frantic sequence soon after.
It featured a DiVincenzo block on James, two emphatic rejections from Davis on Brunson and Hart on the other end, and ended with Austin Reaves running the other end, only to be fouled by DiVincenzo and next to the nearby James to be left on the track. .
The pair were good, and Reaves made both of his free throws, but it was a momentum swing for the crowd, which broke into “Let’s go Knicks chants” as the refs reviewed the call.
Soon they had reason to cheer even louder, as a Brunson three with 1:12 pushed the lead to eight.
The Lakers would fight back early in the fourth, however, as buckets from Prince and James cut the lead back to 1 and prompted Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau to call a quick timeout.
Soon the Lakers’ run put them up 89-86 and while Hart immediately answered with a three, the visitors’ current advantage in scoring depth soon reared its head.
D’Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates a three-pointer during the game
Reaves and Prince both came up big, especially the former, who scored 14 of his 22 points in the final quarter (Prince added 16). And while there were some sloppy turnovers from the Lakers, including an up-and-down from Prince, the Knicks just didn’t have enough outside of Brunson and DiVincenzo as they managed a mere nine points over the final six minutes has.
With about four minutes left, Brunson dribbled in a circle, checked his options and eventually hoisted up a heavily contested jumper with James draped over him. The effort fell short, and it was a handy microcosm of the lack of help the Knicks’ star got tonight.
James, meanwhile, had plenty as Davis was submissive with his late defense.
The four-time MVP then took matters into his own hands, cutting the lead to nine with a mid-range jumper just after the clock ticked under two minutes.
There was no coming back from that for the Knicks, and their fans were soon heading for the exits.