The Lakers came back onto the court after their first night off since the start of the season, closing out their three games in three nights with a win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. They faced the Knicks (1-1), who are a completely different team than three seasons ago when Kobe broke the Madison Square Garden record by dropping 61 points, even getting Spike Lee on his feet.
The Lakers were hoping to continue playing with the same tenacity and momentum as Tuesday, as they clinched their first victory due to excellent ball movement, desire for rebounds, and improved play by both point guards Derek Fisher and Steve Blake. Kobe Bryant will be looking to hit his fourth consecutive game with over 25 points, while Pau Gasol is expected to play exactly how he did versus the Jazz, making big rebounds and continuing with smarter shot selection.
One key factor to another Lakers victory is the play from Metta World Peace, the player formally known as Ron Artest. His impact off of the bench was something Utah’s defense couldn’t handle, as he provided a constant spark for the Lakers with his ability to always be at the right place at the right time.
The Knicks, now being led by Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, and the newly acquired Tyson Chandler from the reigning champions in Dallas, are definitely a force to be reckoned with. Coming off of a 14 point loss to the Golden State Warriors the night before, the Knicks were expected to be fighting back with a vengeance. An early exit to the playoffs was handed to them last season by the Boston Celtics by getting swept in the first round, and having their first playoffs since 2004 end in much less than a fairy tale.
New York was hoping to finally get a win against the Lakers for the first time in nine meetings, as the Lakers currently are giving them their longest dry spell versus an opponent, not being able to overcome Los Angeles since 2007.
The Knicks got off to a fast start, having both Melo and Amar’e scoring over five points each within the first five minutes. The Lakers needed to take a few minutes to wake up, enabling Melo, Amar’e and Chandler to rack up baskets for themselves within the first half of the quarter. Metta World Peace made an early entrance to the first, playing strong and reading some of the Knicks shot attempts, putting him in the correct location on the floor for some easy rebounds to keep the ball within the Lakers’ grasp.
For a while New York had up to a five point lead, but the combination of Fisher, Kobe and McRoberts then proved deadly. McRoberts executed back to back baskets, thus taking charge of a 10-2 Lakers run with four minutes left in the quarter, pushing the Lakers to a 21-19 lead. The increased Lakers defense and communication forced New York to start giving up turnovers, and miss seven shots in a row.
Steve Blake also came to Staples Center ready to play, making consecutive shots, automatically ticking five points by his name. The energy given by the Lakers towards the end of the quarter was unstoppable, shooting 67 percent from the floor in the first quarter and containing the Knicks whenever they got a decent look at the basket. The Lakers new coaching looked to finally be making sense as well, showcasing a team that is scrappy, but has the defensive focus and ability to not quit. The Lakers finished the quarter on top, 31-24.
Jason Kapono opened up the scoring for the Lakers in the second, proving his worth with a nice 22-foot jumper, and following that with a three pointer soon after. The play from Kapono, Murphy, Blake and Metta in the beginning of the second quarter not only gave some of the starters a break, but gave them time to show the depth of the Lakers bench, with or without big name roles. With eight minutes left in the quarter the Lakers bench already had 15 points on the board.
Troy Murphy committed two shooting fouls within just over a minute, putting the Knicks on the line a couple of times for some easy points. Luckily for the Lakers, they weren’t able to put the free throws away when necessary. New York also continued to miss wide open baskets, with Bill Walker bricking his first shot from beyond the arc.
A key moment in the quarter that even surprised Kobe Bryant from the bench was a wonderful alley-oop from Blake, behind the three-point line, to McRoberts down low, who smashed it home to get the Staples Center crowd on their feet.
The Knicks woes were all directly related to their shot selection and execution in the first half, as with five minutes remaining they were shooting 29 percent from the floor versus the Lakers 70 percent. Carmelo Anthony finally started taking the reins, shooting 8-13 with 18 points, but it may have been too late, as Kobe Bryant was already in his groove, scoring and assisting left and right.
L.A. at one point got their field goal percentage all the way to 82 percent in the quarter, even making the commentators have to take a second look at their stats sheet.
While Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony seemed to be the only Knicks that showed up to play, the Lakers bench continued to impress. From Troy Murphy getting important offensive rebounds and baskets to Matt Barnes and Jason Kapono tallying up more and more points, the Lakers made it look like New York were going to fall to Los Angeles for the ninth consecutive time.
The final few minutes of the quarter seemed to be spiraling out of control for the Knicks, starting with a Carmelo Anthony technical foul. After that the Knicks defense allowed Metta to take a wide open three to take the Lakers lead all the way up to 13. Mike D’Antoni looked like he had a lot to cover in the locker room.
The final play of the half definitely proved who had the least amount of composure, as Bill Walker committed his fourth personal foul of the game on Kobe Bryant with 0.2 seconds remaining, sending him to the line to put away another two points. The Knicks had a lot of problems to work out at half time, shooting only 33 percent and trailing the Lakers 51-63.
Both the Lakers and the Knicks opened up the quarter slow, missing some baskets and not getting a score up until over a minute had passed thanks to Pau Gasol. Whatever the conversation was about composure and focus at half time in the Knicks locker room must have not sunk in right away, as Amar’e Stoudemire put himself on the list with Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony for another New York technical foul.
The Lakers lead continued to be at around 12 for most of the quarter, with Kobe and Fisher trying to do too many passes and everyone on the floor becoming lazy with shooting. The sluggish play by both teams was, according to the commentary, “ugly to watch”, which most people could easily agree with. Both teams field goal percentages dropped to slightly above 30 percent, forcing Mike Brown to take a time out to try to revive his team to play how they did the first 24 minutes.
There was a lot of energy on the court, but the energy led to sloppiness for both teams as well. Kobe Bryant began to display his role as a veteran on the court when he started to establish the composure again. He made a statement with a big block on Bill Walker from 5 feet out, and then sprinted down the court to easily take the ball away from Stoudemire the next play. His play is the sole reason the Lakers didn’t allow the Knicks to get themselves back into the game in the third, with smart passing and stunning baskets which even put a smile on his face. With around three minutes remaining he dropped a fade away three with strong pressure and a hand in his face, and started walking to the other side of the court in complete shock when it bounced around and into the rim.
Kobe continued to put on a Hollywood show for everyone watching, dealing with tough Knicks defense easily taking his total all the way up to 28 points with one more quarter to play.
But despite Kobe’s play, the rest of the Lakers were all sub par, enabling New York to get within eight points heading into the final 12 minutes of the game. The Knicks were holding on, down 72-80.
The Lakers came into the final quarter of the game more alert than ever, not wanting another Christmas Day repeat to occur with the loss of a big lead in the clutch minutes of the game. Kapono sunk another long two, followed by yet another McRoberts alley-oop fed by Pau Gasol to put the Lakers in the lead by 12.
Carmelo Anthony gave up another turnover due to loss of focus, losing control of the ball and carrying it down the court. This was a key turn of events for the Knicks, who had the momentum to finally catch up with the home team again going into the quarter, which was displayed by Melo’s frustration with himself as he walked back on defense.
With eight minutes left in the quarter, McRoberts picked up his fifth personal foul sending him to the bench, launching the Knicks on attack. Unfortunately for New York, they had only made one basket with half of the quarter already passed, and were barely shooting over 30 percent. Things could have turned for the worse when Amar’e Stoudemire rolled his ankle in a position battle against Matt Barnes, but after walking gingerly off of the court he quickly returned to the game, reminding Laker fans that this was far from over.
Steve Blake finally made another three, followed by some big plays by both Murphy and Blake off of the bench, pushing the Lakers lead all the way up to 20 with very few minutes remaining. Nothing else seemed to work out for the Knicks, as every screen shot of Coach D’Antoni that TNT featured showed him with a frustrated and beaten face, even when there was more than seven minutes remaining in the game.
The two key factors for the Lakers were both the third quarter play by Kobe Bryant and the impact of the bench. Kobe, showing off acrobatic baskets and strong rebounds kept the Lakers ahead after half time when the rest of the team seemed to be in a slouch. His leadership lifted the Lakers above the frustrated Knicks when it was most important. He lead the team with 28 points, signaling the start of the “We Want Taco’s!” chant around Los Angeles.
Also, the likes of Murphy, Metta, Blake, Kapono, and Barnes combined for a total of 40 points in the game, a clear lift that the Knicks bench wasn’t able to produce. The Knicks bench had a weak 15 points in comparison.
The Knicks were lead by Carmelo Anthony, who showcased a total 27 points, shooting a total 10-18. Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire also assisted, with a combined 28. New York dropped their second loss in a row. The Lakers finished the game on top, 99-82.
Los Angeles are now 2-2, with back to back wins at home, and finally playing defense how they should be under new coach Mike Brown. The Lakers next host the Nuggets at home on New Years Eve.
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