Although it came just 24 hours after a momentum-building victory over the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers (38-16) traveled to the Big Apple tonight to take on the New York Knicks (26-26).
New York’s arena, Madison Square Garden, has proven to be a favorable setting for all business regarding Kobe Bryant recently. The Black Mamba entered the matchup averaging 41.8 points (on 49 percent shooting) and five rebounds per game in the Lakers last four contests in Madison Square Garden – all wins. For Bryant’s career, he’s averaging 30.3 PPG in MSG, his highest in any venue around the league.
Having won the first the games of their seven game road trip, the Lakers came into the contest looking to continue their streak, while the Knicks attempted to avoid slipping to .500 for the first time since Nov. 28, 2010.
The Knicks were in control to begin the game, and following an opening 3-pointer by Raymond Felton, New York jumped out to a quick 11-3 lead.
Facing a early deficit, Kobe put he team on his back, and scored 13 of the Lakers’ next 17 points to give the Lakers the first lead of the game, 20-18.
Although they were not able to build on their newly-attained lead, the Lakers remained in the driver’s seat for the rest of the period; keyed by Bryant’s 19 points and buzzer-beating, turnaround jumper to end the quarter, the Lakers finished the first 12 minutes of play on top, 30-28.
A three-point-play by Danillo Gallinari 19 seconds into the second quarter put the Knicks back up by one, 31-30; however, a balanced attack led by Lamar Odom, Shannon Brown and Pau Gasol helped the Lakers jump out to a 10-point advantage, 47-37, with 6:03 remaining in the first half.
After beginning the quarter on the bench, Bryant checked back in at the 5:48 mark and, after over six minutes of rest – picked up where he left off, as he scored the Lakers’ next four points and found a cutting Gasol for a dunk to up the Lakers’ lead to 12.
Bryant did not score for the rest of the half, but behind strong play from Gasol and Andrew Bynum, the Lakers were able to go ahead by as much as 17 points.
A late foul sent Stoudemire to the line with 00.8 remaining in the quarter, cutting the Lakers’ lead to 16, and after Stoudemire was unsuccessful the second attempt, Landry Fields snuck past Gasol and tipped in the miss at the buzzer.
Taking a 62-48 lead into the second half, the Lakers were led by Bryant who posted 23 points and eight rebounds in the first 24 minutes of play.
The Lakers’ frontline of Bynum and Gasol accounted for seven of their first nine points, but the Knicks used a 10-1 run over the next 2:17 to cut the Lakers’ advantage to single-digits, 71-62.
After Odom broke even at the charity stripe, Bryant converted a two-point jumper, then on the next possession down, Bryant faked out Gallanari and nailed a triple to give him 30 points on the night and the Lakers a 15-point lead, 77-62.
The Knicks scored four unanswered points to narrow the deficit to 11, but with just under two minutes remaining, Bryant was in place on defense and drew the offensive foul on Stoudemire, returning possession to the Lakers.
Looking to take a sizable advantage into the fourth period, the Lakers held the Knicks to only two points in the final 2:45 of the third quarter.
After Steve Blake was fouled on a three-point attempt, he sank all three free throws and Gasol scored with 15 seconds remaining to match the Lakers’ largest lead of the game, 17, and the Purple and Gold headed into the final 12 minutes of play ahead, 85-68.
Although the Lakers and Knicks traded multiple baskets for the first two minutes of the final 12 minutes of play, two of New York’s baskets came from behind-the-arc, as the Knicks cut the deficit to 15 with 10:14 to play.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, 15 ended up being the closest that they would get, as the Lakers’ bench built the Lakers lead up to as much as 20, allowing the starters to sit out much or all of the final period.
Bryant continued his streak of success at MSG, finishing with 33 points (12 of 17 shooting), including 4 of 7 on 3-pointers and pulled down 10 rebounds, as the Lakers closed out the Knicks, 113-96.
Gasol also posted 20 points of his own, while Bynum contributed 12 points and nine rebounds for the Lakers, who have won eight of their last 11 in MSG.
The bench came up big for the Lakers, as Odom finished with 14, Brown with 12 and Blake with eight points and seven assists.
The Lakers, who picked up their 38th win of the season tonight, will continue their road trip on Sunday evening in Orlando, when they take on Dwight Howard and the Magic at 5 p.m. PST.