NEW YORK – From a stalled start, the Lakers turned up quickly. Behind an attacking Russell Westbrook, they even looked like they might steal a street game that started out as a one-sided affair.
But big comebacks use a lot of fuel. And at the finish on Tuesday evening, the Lakers’ tank was empty.
In the end, the New York Knicks held their own with a 106-100 win, and the Lakers, who never really took the lead despite their energetic comeback, fell to 9-10 overall and 1-3 on theirs first big road trip back.
With 31 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists Westbrook delivered the most spark of any Laker for his fourth triple double of the season. His sometimes insane inconsistencies were ironed out in the last three quarters after the Lakers gave their hosts a 25-point lead early on.
« We didn’t play hard enough: easy, » said Westbrook. « When we decided to play harder, you saw a significant difference. »
They needed someone in charge. LeBron James was serving a suspension for a game from the previous game in Detroit while Anthony Davis struggled with flu-like symptoms, ending with 20 points and six rebounds.
But the Lakers couldn’t finish: With the game still within range at 99:93, the Lakers missed nine of their next 10 shots when the Knicks reduced their lead to double digits. The Lakers were just 2 to 11 on their 3-pointers in the fourth quarter – following in the footsteps of another narrow defeat on that trip to Milwaukee, where their perimeter shooting went frustratingly cold.
The perimeter shooting was a determining factor for New York, who shot 15 for 34 from 3 point distance. Evan Fournier alone had six 3-point points and finished with 26 points as the best team for the Knicks, while Immanuel Quickley finished them with four of his 3-point points in the fourth quarter.
Coach Frank Vogel praised his team’s late performance but waved the way they started. In each game on the road trip, the Lakers played from behind for at least 10 points.
« One hell of a fight for our boys to fight back, to compete like they did, » he said. “They vie with their tails to get Ws and they just fall short. But we have to start the last two games better. We play uphill and that makes things difficult. »
Davis was the Laker who was initially questionable, but the entire starting XI looked under the weather during a miserable start. The Knicks scored 10 right before the Lakers’ first point. A break changed little: the Knicks continued to harass them, with Julius Randle (20 points, 16 rebounds, five assists) falling back into the color and a number of shooters burning the 3-point line. After the first two minutes, the Lakers never came closer than nine points for the remainder of the first half.
Many known problems emerged, most notably inattentive defense. There was slow switching to shooter on the screens. They were cut back by Obi Toppin. They were hit on the boards.
At least for Davis, his whole day was in a mess when he woke up with a low fever and was stuck in his hotel room until it broke. He arrived in the garden 50 minutes before the tip, rushing through his treatment and warm-up process, surprising teammates and coaches who assumed he wasn’t going to play. His body ache and stiffness persisted into the first quarter.
« It was really like an AAU thing for me: come to the gym, get dressed, go play, which I’ve never done before, » he said. « So the first few minutes were something like ‘OK, let yourself go, get into a rhythm’, and then I think we as a team turned it around. »
New York’s sales helped their guests get back into business: The Knicks had 14 sales, which added up to 22 points for a suddenly stubborn Lakers transition attack. During one stretch, the Lakers ran a 25-4 run that raised hopes that they might actually win.
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The trend reversal came during the period that worried the Lakers most: the dreaded third quarter. But that was when Westbrook came alive and scored 18 points everywhere from the edge to the 3-point line. He took advantage of the comfort of the Knicks that had built up in the first half, crept insanely into the fast lane and unlocked the transitional attack. Most importantly, he controlled the ball: his five ball losses in the first half only became a giveaway in the second half.
New York’s 12-point lead at halftime continued to shrink. Eventually, the Lakers put it out late on the third: Westbrook sent an outlet pass-out to a grazing Carmelo Anthony who got a warm Madison Square Garden reception when he tied it with a dunk at 79.
Overall, however, it was a difficult return to New York for Anthony, who was only 3 out of 14 for 12 points. Talen Horton-Tucker missed all eight shots in a goalless game despite returning to the starting XI for James. Davis said he advised Horton-Tucker afterward, advising him to do more « the little things » to open up opportunities for his teammates and himself.
The Lakers end their road trip in Indianapolis and want to reset their record to 0.500. They saw lightning bolts what their team can be, they said – they just need to start seeing more than lightning bolts.
« I have the energy we needed, » said Davis, « just couldn’t get it out tonight. »
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