The New York Knicks’ road trip was full of speed bumps through its first three games.
As a whole, the trip was underwhelming coming into Monday. A disappointing loss against the Utah Jazz was followed by a historic performance by Jalen Brunson in a win against the Suns, but all good vibes were quickly washed away by a 22-point drubbing by the LA Clippers. With the Knicks searching for answers, Monday’s late game against King James and AD would be an uphill battle.
The absence of Mitchell Robinson had proven costly: before Monday’s matchup, the Knicks had conceded an average of 132 points per game in their prior six games, four and a half being played without a healthy Robinson. The team's defensive identity had all but evaporated into thin air, leaving a defensive-minded coach searching for answers.
The Knicks would have to win in Los Angeles to break even on the trip out west making it 2-2.
Whenever the Knicks and Lakers play each other, there’s always a dramatic aura surrounding the game. A head-to-head battle between two of the most storied franchises in the league is always special, and with both teams looking like playoff threats this year, there was no shortage of headlines leading up to tipoff. Ready? Let’s do it!
About .000001 seconds into the game, there was already (bad) news. Jericho Sims sprained his ankle jumping on the opening tip. He tried playing through it, but after three minutes and two quick fouls, he left the game, not to return. Isaiah Hartenstein would have to be the five for most of the night, and the Knicks didn’t have any other sustainable options on their bench. The Lakers are one of the strongest teams in the paint in the league, so the game would be decided in the trenches.
The first quarter went back and forth, with both teams slowly finding their footing early. AD was dominating early on both sides of the floor, but the Knicks began to click on offense.
Randle started off aggressively, finishing the opening frame with 10 points.
IQ came off the bench and provided an instant spark, scoring 11 points in just 5 minutes of play.
In a back-and-forth affair, the Knicks strung together a 14-4 run towards the end of the quarter. Quickley hit the three above in the final second of quarter number one to push the Knick lead to 35-27 after one.
The second quarter was more of the same: The Knicks were getting buckets in the paint, but the three-ball wasn’t falling. A steady dosage of Randle, Brunson, Barrett, and Quickley was proving to work. On the other end, the Lakers were missing some easy buckets as well, so New York was able to keep them at arm’s length.
Worth noting here that without another true 5 on the roster, the Knicks turned to senior citizen Taj Gibson for spot minutes in the first half. Isaiah Hartenstein was playing his tail off in huge minutes, battling all night with Anthony Davis on the boards, but Taj was the only other big man option on the bench.
New York maintained a strong lead for most of the quarter, but the Lakers caught fire from the floor towards the end of the half, embarking on a monster 19-6 run. The Knicks, unable to close out the half, squandered the lead into halftime. Lakers by one, 58-57.
The Knicks recovered well in the third quarter. Despite the Lakers pushing the lead to five early, a balanced offensive attack from all four starters plus Hartenstein gave the Lakers real issues.
While the Lakers found initial success from LeBron and AD getting to the basket, the Knicks closed the third on a 15-2 run thanks to some 3-point marksmanship from IQ, Grimes, and Brunson. The New York lead was pushed up to 90-80 with one more period remaining.
LeBron showed up big time at the beginning of the fourth, reminding us why he’s the greatest player of the 21st century. Even at 38, he’s still got it. He was getting to the hoop at will. He was finding the open man. He scored or assisted on 15 of the Lakers’ first 19 points of the fourth quarter, leaving a huge imprint on the game. When it was all said and done, he would finish the night with a statline of 25-11-11, the 109th triple-double of his career.
The Knicks were able to withstand the Lakers’ knockout punch, though, and counter with some haymakers of their own. Jalen Brunson made some big-time plays down the stretch. Isaiah Hartenstein was working the glass. But with 3:36 left, the Lakers cut the Knicks’ lead down to just four. Then this happened.
Onions! A Brunson floater and a Randle dunk were all that the Knicks needed from there on out. Despite some unnecessary drama at the end, the Knicks were able to escape with a gritty victory, 114-109. The defense looked sharp, the squad made plays down the stretch, and it resulted in a huge win.
- Isaiah Hartenstein is a hell of a player. A career-high 17 rebounds in a career-high 39 minutes. With seven of the 17 boards pulled down on the offensive glass. He’s easily tonight’s MVP, and he was the X-factor in tonight’s game.
- As mentioned before, there was no complimentary five backing up iHart. Taj Gibson played six minutes and was a minus-8. If Jericho Sims misses time, the Knicks need to explore options, and fast.
- Dog. At. The. Game. You MUST watch this video.
Service dog at the Lakers game doing a dance. So cute... pic.twitter.com/vSS3KE0g5u— Oh no he didn't (@ohnohedidnt24) December 19, 2023
- Julius Randle has been an absolute paint beast as of late. He’s shooting only 3.6 threes per game this month, his lowest in a month since early 2020-21. His efficiency is way up, he’s scoring at the rim, and he’s rebounding the basketball. This is the Julius Randle people have been waiting to see.
- Immanuel Quickley played 29 minutes, the most he has this month. He’s been absolutely incredible, and the Knicks need to figure out a way to keep him on the floor.
- Cam Reddish in his revenge game: 5 PTS on 2-9 FG (0-4 3PT), 2 REB, 1 AST, with five fouls in 27 minutes of play. I wish the guy nothing but luck, but tonight he didn’t have it.
- The Knicks outrebounded the Lakers 52-41 tonight. Huge!
User BingBongRuinedUs gave props on behalf of all of us to tonight’s MVP. “Take a bow, iHart.”
We’re back at it on Wednesday night from Barclays. Be well everyone, and go Knicks!