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Knicks 119, Lakers 112: “I’m proud of my team right now”

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Winning just the second game out of 15 never felt so good.

NBA: New York Knicks at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Friday night Knicks?

In Los Angeles?

Versus LeBron’s* Lakers?

Get on it, fam!

(*Sure, LeBron didn’t play...but does a LeBron team ever look more like a LeBron team than when he’s out?)

The Knicks came to Los Angeles having lost eight in a row and 13 of 14, but a sizzling start and inspiring finish saw them best the Lakers 119-112. In true Hollywood fashion, this was a story in three acts: the Knicks jumped out to a 22-5 lead, after which the Lakers outscored them 87-64 entering the fourth, a quarter the Knicks won 33-20. Tonight’s win wasn’t just unexpected because it was a win, but because of who led the effort, and how.

New York’s first six buckets were all of the three-point persuasion.

Any numerologist could have told you things were looking promising. Noah Vonleh had seven points and seven rebounds in the opening frame. The Knicks hit seven threes in the quarter, along with seven twos; if they’d hit three more free throws, they’d have hit the jackpot. Instead they settled for a 39-point quarter, tying their season-high for a first quarter, and led by a pair of sevens.

You knew both teams would look to get out and run. They did.

Damyean Dotson showed great energy in the first half. Tonight was the best he’s looked in weeks.

Trey Burke said this is the healthiest he’s felt in a while. It showed.

Behind the three-point barrages of Lonzo Ball and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles cut the gap to four at the break. Emmanuel Mudiay struggled in the first half, missing all six of his shots, but the second half was a different story. He scored 15 after intermission.

The problem for the Knicks was the Lakers were getting into the paint willy-nilly, which led to open looks from deep on kickouts and collapsing defenders being vulnerable to looks at the rim; at times JaVale McGee and KCP could have been Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant. Speaking of flashbacks to L.A. of lore, Mudiay brought a flare of Showtime to the place it was born.

But like a screenplay that goes through hundreds of hands and dozens of rewrites, the Lakers were persistent. A vicious Ivica Zubac stuff of THJ led to a Brandon Ingram fast break for LA’s first lead of the night.

After which the Knicks could only muster a Mudiay 28-foot heave with the shot-clock expiring, a brick that led to a Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk three. By the end of the third, Los Angeles had turned a nine-point deficit into a six-point lead. Remember when Mario Hezonja stepped over Giannis Antetokounmpo? That was over a month ago. The Knicks have won once since then. What would they trot out to open the fourth, with the game on the line and the squad in dire need of a win?

This is Hollywood, yo! The night always has to be dark as can be, so the dawn can shine that much brighter. So come on down, Enes Kanter, Hezonja, Dotson, Burke and Allonzo Trier. Four quick points led Laker coach Luke Walton to call time a minute into the fourth, but momentum had arrived and was ready for its close-up. Hezonja had 10 points and some key defensive plays. Kanter blocked three shots, which is only literally about eight times his per-game average, and a pair of free throws by him gave the Knicks the lead again. New York took 20 free throws in the fourth and a season-high 41 total. Whoa.

It was back-and-forth, breathless, end-to-end NBA action in the final frame, with both teams looking desperate for a win and both teams looking like they were missing a superstar. A Ball three gave L.A. the lead again, 102-101. But Mudiay drew a controversial blocking foul on KCP to get the Knicks in the penalty with slightly more than half the quarter left. An Ingram three-point play saw the Lakers up one; Hezonja got out on the break to re-take the lead for New York. Neither team could gain separation until Kanter blocking Ingram led to Hardaway taking his 19th hard shot of the night and drilling a pair of free throws.

The Knicks briefly went to the zone defense late in the proceedings and it held. Hardaway had a great look at three to put the nail in the coffin, but it rimmed out. Both teams were getting close looks, which suggests youth and aggression, but both missed a ton of close looks, which suggests youth and inexperience. It would fall to the youngest player on the court to hit one of the biggest shots of the night.

The Lakers called timeout, but on the inbounds the Knicks forced a five-second violation. That was awesome, until this happened about thirty seconds later.

Mudiay found Kanter on a back-door feed that McGee goaltended. Hezonja followed that with a big steal, after which a Mudiay drive forced the defense to converge and contest, leaving Kanter free for a putback to put the game out of reach. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Wow that was fun!

Notes:

  • Knick bench: 55 points. Laker bench: 31.
  • Only six turnovers tonight for New York. That’ll do.
  • Burke’s 16 points were the most he’s scored since the pre-Thanksgiving Boston Massacre.
  • In addition to enjoying seeing Luke Kornet play more, I value seeing him function as a Kristaps Porzingis stand-in. You get glimpses of all the ways KP bends the curvature of the floor. Here’s something Hardaway could do more of with more minutes alongside Porzingis.
  • Kornet hit a driving runner tonight. Don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.
  • In the first half KCP blew past Kornet on the baseline, who then fell on him. KCP pushed him off kinda frantically, I thought. Figured it was a hotheaded, excessive response. Then I remembered I’ve never had a seven-foot man fall on top of me, so I’m not really in a position to judge.
  • Sooo tired of the Knicks wearing road whites. We’re not simpletons. Let the Lakers wear gold and the Knicks wear blue. We’ll be able to tell them apart.
  • Frank Ntilikina hurt his left ankle and went to the locker room. Rebecca Haarlow reported the X-rays were negative, and Frank had a left ankle strain. He was out for the rest of the game. I’m generally a show > tell kinda girl, so if you missed the play and wanna know how it went down...
  • For all our stressing about young Mr. Ntilikina, there were seven players taken ahead of him in the 2017 draft, including Ball. Only three are unquestionably superior in their sophomore season: Jayson Tatum, De’Aaron Fox and Lauri Markkanen. For what it’s worth, I’d still be very fine having Ball on my team.
  • Mudiay had about three layups blocked because his layups often involve this slow unfolding action. Looks like someone loading a musket when a Saturday Night Special would do.
  • Six points and four rebounds in the return to action of Michael Beasley, who’s been dealing with life and death of late.

I dug Beas. Seems like his former mates do, too.

OAKAAKUYOAK.

  • On one play Beasley was fouled hard on a drive and nearly fell into James Dolan sitting behind the baseline. Insert your own snark here.
  • Four and four for ex-Knick Tyson Chandler. So, remarkably, he’s 36 and still matching his production from the playoffs against Indiana nearly six years ago.
  • On one play Ingram drove in transition and Trier, rather than trying to stop the ball, basically hurled his body into him, then complained about the foul call. Nine lost minutes for the rook. If any guard is due for another one of Fizdale’s week or two benchings, it’s Trier, for sure.
  • Mike Breen asked Clyde Frazier about LeBron recently anointing himself the GOAT. Clyde said he doesn’t think LeBron’s the greatest ever, and that he’d need to win another ring and break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record for most points to reach that level. If James leads the Lakers to a ring in the next three years and ends up the leading scorer of all-time, would you call him the greatest?
  • I could have sworn “anoint” had two N’s. Nope. The one spelling concept that trips me up is remembering when words have single or double letters, like “embarrassment” and “commitment/committee.” You have any chronic spelling words or concepts you wanna confess?
  • I confess an inexplicable, completely illogical and unfounded feeling that Josh Hart is overrated. Not because I have evidence that he is. I just feel it. I feel right feeling it.
  • The Knicks will have nine — nine! — more home games than road games the second half of this season. Stay strong, tank. Stay strong.
  • Apologies to Zubac, but when I see #40 in purple and gold there’s only one man I think of.

OAKAAKUYOAK.

  • Did you know the Lakers have nearly four times as many Twitter followers as the Knicks? Damn. The Lakers are so freaking popular.
  • Not the Knicks. Not even the NBA. Still cool as shit.
  • Fuck Paul Pierce.

Quoth felinequickness: “I’m proud of my team right now.” You should be. They’ve beaten the Lakers and the Celtics this year, so it’s already a pretty good year. After the game Burke kept talking to reporters about the Knicks needing to be ready for their next game Tuesday in Golden State. Truth is their next game is Monday in Portland. Are they already overlooking that one? Not gonna sweat it. Gonna enjoy a night my team played 10 dudes who didn’t strain ankles and all 10 scored and assisted and came together to bring us some joy for just the second time in over a month. Even when tanking, there are a few games you really do want. This was one. Thanks, Knicks.