…The Lakers are back in a town near you and they’re not leaving without a victory.
The Knicks had an 11-3 lead early in the first quarter and they really thought they had something good going. Raymond Felton (20 points on 7-12, 7 assists, 3 steals) couldn’t miss and the Lakers were turning the ball over like no one’s business. Then that Kobe Bryant character hit a three-pointer, and it was all downhill from there.
Kobe Bryant hit his first four shots of the game and finished with 19 points on 7-9…in the FIRST quarter. It looked like the makings of another huge night for Bryant but sadly, he “only” finished with 33 points. Tell that to Danilo Gallinari who, in the third quarter, stepped back and forth, side to side, and tried, really tried, to stay on Bryant. But a crossover here, a stutter step there, and the Italian import was left wondering how and when Bryant launched that three. Bryant not only shot 12-17, 4-7 from behind the arc, but he also had 10 rebounds. His five turnovers notwithstanding, the magic of Madison Square Garden was apparent in him tonight and it permeated through the rest of the team.
With a two-point lead after the first quarter, the Laker reserves stepped in with Pau Gasol (20 points on 9-16, 6 rebounds) to make their own contributions to the game and did they put on a show! Shannon Brown (12 points on 6-10) intercepted a pass and made his way to the hoop for an uncontested, thunderous dunk. Steve Blake (8 points, 7 assists, 2 steals) passed to a cutting Lamar Odom (14 points on 5-10) for an easy hoop. Then Blake lobbed a pass to Brown who received the ball in his right only to slam in a two-handed dunk that had all of Madison Square Garden oooh-ing and aaah-ing. Even Luke Walton (8 points on 4-6, 4 assists) had the New York crowd chanting Luuuuuuuuuuuuuke! By the time the starters returned to the game, the lead was up to 10 points, which turned into 14 by the half-time break.
The Lakers have been known to lose big leads and tonight was no exception. With a 14-point lead going into the third quarter, the visitors relaxed, and the home team took advantage, pulling to within nine points. But lately the Lakers have also been known for other things, like patience. They barely batted an eyelid after half of that big lead was lost, they were so focused. Bryant hit on a turnaround jumper, followed by another three-pointer. Then he took a charge from Amar’e Stoudemire (24 points on 9-20, 10 rebounds) and suddenly the Laker lead was back to a more comfortable 17 after three quarters.
Kobe Bryant didn’t get a chance to break his 61-point game record at Madison Square Garden because he didn’t play a second of the final 12 minutes. It’s been a long time since Bryant’s been able to enjoy the game from the bench in the final quarter but he did it tonight because the Lakers looked as efficient on both ends of the court as they’ve ever been. Blake continued his efficient running of the offense, finding Andrew Bynum (12 points on 5-8, 9 rebounds) for a wide open dunk. Then Lamar Odom buried a three and suddenly the Laker lead was up to 20 points.
With this win, the Lakers are 9-1 on the second night of back to backs. They didn’t look one bit like a team who fought to the very end of a game the night before. They, in fact, had a spring in their step tonight, like they found their second wind. They kept the second highest scoring team 10 points below their average, and forced the Knicks into shooting just 41%. The Lakers shot 54% themselves and handed out 22 dimes on 45 makes.
Next come the Orlando Magic in two days. If the Lakers play as efficiently as a group as they did tonight (8 free throws missed aside), they are difficult to defeat. Here’s hoping that this version of the defending champs is here to stay.
Pre-game Thoughts: The Lakers may have blown out the Knicks in their last meeting, but let’s not hang our hats on that. This game takes place on the Knicks home floor. They might be a different team in front of their home crowd. Hopefully the Lakers can ride the momentum from their last three wins. The Knicks don’t play any defense so make them pay inside.
Half-time Thoughts: 62-48 – The Lakers started the game choppy, but then Kobe Bryant got going, and then the rest of the team got going and then the Knicks couldn’t figure out how to stop it. Bryant leads all scores with 23 points so the second half should be an exciting one.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: What is up with the Lakers’ free throw shooting lately? 17-25?! Again, they’re lucky this wasn’t a closer game. Otherwise those eight points would’ve been sorely missed.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Lakers bench – it’s been a long time since the reserves had any impact on a game but tonight they delivered: 44 points, 10 rebounds, 15 of the team’s 22 assists and 4 steals. They extended the first quarter two-point lead to 10 before the starters returned by playing solid defense and running the offense. This is the type of effort the Lakers need from the reserves each night.