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Knicks 111, Lakers 96: “Braidz”

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Three straight wins.

Los Angeles Lakers v New York Knicks
Randle will back Schroder down all night, but he’ll never back down from a challenge. Certainly not when he’s got braids.
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s true what they say. “Hell hath no fury like a Julius Randle scorned.” The All-Star carried his current squad past his former team at Madison Square Garden Monday night, taking control when necessary and pouring in 34 points en route to a 111-96 victory over the defending champion Lakers.

The win is New York’s third straight, marking the team’s sixth three-game win streak this season. Last year, the Knicks won at least three straight games only twice. The Knicks are now 28-27 and pretty firmly planted in the playoff picture, although there remain many difficult matchups for the Knicks going forward this season, including a difficult six-game road trip that looms in just a few weeks and features stops in LA, Denver and Phoenix, to name a few.

But that’s for future us to worry about. The Knicks just knocked off the defending champs. Sure, the Lakers were without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but they’ve still got a plethora of pretty good players, and New York could easily have let this one slip after two hard-fought victories against the Grizzlies and Raptors.

Randle wasn’t going to let the Knicks get caught napping, however. Not against the team that declined to make him part of its future once upon a time.

Randle wasn’t the only catalyst — he was aided in his efforts by a 20-point night from Elfrid Payton — but it was the power forward’s brilliance that shined brightest against the Lakers. He got going early, hitting his first four shots and erupting for 13 points in the first quarter.

The starters played stifling defense, with Elf, RJ Barrett, Reggie Bullock and Nerlens Noel each recording a steal in the first quarter, and at one point the Knicks went on a 10-0 run to take a seven-point lead. Besides Randle, however, the Knicks were having difficulty finding the bottom of the basket, and at the conclusion of the first the Lakers led by two.

The second quarter featured some of Taj Gibson’s finest work as a Knick, although he’s been the consummate professional for his entire New York tenure. The 35-year-old veteran notched 8 points and 7 boards in the period, and his grunt work allowed the likes of Payton, Derrick Rose and Randle to focus on making sure the Knicks scored at least a couple of baskets. Elf, Rose and Randle combined for 20 of the team’s 29 second quarter points, and heading into the break the Knicks were casually maintaining a three-point advantage.

That the Knicks held any kind of lead whatsoever going into the second half was remarkable. Barrett had yet to score, and the Knicks were 1-11 from deep.

Bullock had himself a third quarter, pouring in 8 points including two threes, Elf dropped another 4 points, and RJ finally got on the board, finishing the period with 5 points. But the quarter was mostly much of what we had seen in the first half, with the teams going tit for tat, until Randle decided the game belonged to him.

First, he kept his composure after nearly turning the ball over and splashed a jumper as the shot clock expired.

Then, he paid Alex Caruso absolutely no mind, casually draining a three-pointer in Caruso’s face.

Randle regrettably had 5 turnovers in the third, and in the early portion of the period was pressing a little too hard on offense, but he took control at the end. In the quarter, he had 7 points, 6 boards, 2 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. His heroics, combined with New York’s overall superb effort on defense — LA shot 33% in the third, including 1-8 from three, and scored only 16 points — meant the Knicks found themselves up 81-68 going into the fourth.

The Lakers didn’t lay down, but the Knicks never let them get too close. Seven Knicks scored in the final quarter, and although the Lakers matched their first quarter offensive output of 28 points, the Knicks notched 30, en route to the comfortable 111-96 victory.

Notes:

> Three cheers for Julius Randle, who put on another MVP chant-worthy performance with 34 points (13-23 from the field, 5-6 from the free throw line), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block.

> Save some cheers for Elf, who shushed some of the haters, at least for one evening, with a much-needed 20-point outing. He hit 9-12 shots (75%), and added 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal. It was Payton’s 7th game this season with 20 or more points.

> Immanuel Quickley had 5 points and 2 turnovers in just over 15 minutes of action. Mike Breen noted during the broadcast that Quickley hadn’t turned it over in the course of his last 92 minutes of playing time, which was spread across six games. Maybe he hasn’t been turning it over because Tom Thibodeau barely lets him play, Mike.

> We love you, Taj Gibson and Nerlens Noel. The centers held Andre Drummond in check and patrolled the paint like Picasso. They combined for 14 points, 19 rebounds, 6 steals and 5 blocks.

> Tough night for RJ, although while he shot poorly (2-11 from the field), he was still a +18 on the night. He had a few delicious dimes (3 total) and generally continued to give maximum effort on both ends of the floor, despite his shooting struggles. He’ll bounce back.

> Following a questionable foul call at the end of the first, Breen said the following: “Whatever it is, Tom Thibodeau’s not happy about it.” Usually, that’s a universal phrase when it comes to Thibs.

But right now, he’s gotta be at least a little happy. The Knicks have won three straight and continue to earn respect across the NBA. New York now travels to New Orleans, where they’ll play Zion Williamson and the Pelicans on Wednesday.

Maybe RJ was thinking about battling his old buddy from the Blue Devils, and that’s why he struggled tonight. Irregardless, it’s okay that RJ was off, because the Knicks had Randle, who, as normanhathaway noted, is rocking his “Braidz.”