NEW YORK — The Big Apple always expects a show when LeBron James comes to Madison Square Garden. A three-year delay between appearances seemed to only have whet the appetite.
James wasn’t perfect, nor were the Lakers, who bumbled their way into an overtime affair against the New York Knicks. But after four straight losses when forced into extra time, the Lakers finally rose to the challenge on Tuesday night – and James picked a key moment to help push them over the top.
As Dennis Schröder tried to dribble out the shot clock, James caught the Knicks’ defense sleeping and made a cut to the rim and laid in a feed from Schröder with 19 seconds left, the dagger in a 129-123 Lakers win and a needed victory for a team in the middle of a five-game road trip.
James finished with a team-high 28 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists – his first triple-double of the season. Anthony Davis added 27 points in his third game back from injury, and Russell Westbrook had three of his eight assists in overtime playing a critical role in the win. They survived 37 points from the cool-headed Jalen Brunson, who was at the helm of several sequences that kept the Knicks in it.
Overtime wouldn’t have been possible without an epic Lakers meltdown in regulation. They looked to have it in the bag with 1:41 remaining when James nailed an above-the-break 3-pointer to push the lead to six points. The Lakers had a lineup on the floor with Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown and Russell Westbrook around James and Davis, looking for defensive stopping power.
But things went awry soon after. Brunson made a shot 10 seconds after the timeout, then a long rebound glanced off the hands of Hachimura out of bounds for a critical turnover. Quentin Grimes scored a second-chance bucket – two of 15 second-chance points the Lakers gave up on Tuesday night – to cut it two, then Brunson tied the score with 24 seconds left.
Brunson again was at the front of the Knicks’ heroics on defense, where he stepped in to draw his second charge of the night against Davis on a pick-and-roll drive by the Lakers’ big man. Julius Randle (23 points) couldn’t get a shot off before the regulation buzzer, sending the Lakers to their sixth overtime game this season.
Extra time has been largely troubling for the Lakers this season – they had not won since their first OT game on Nov. 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Lakers weren’t particularly blistering to begin the game, but the Knicks were particularly underwhelming. The visitors got out to a 15-5 lead with New York shooting a rim-clunking 2 for 15 from the floor – only Brunson made a basket in the first 7½ minutes.
But the Knicks’ quickly caught up, thanks to Lakers turnovers and their own weak 3-point shooting. The Lakers were only 3 for 17 from behind the arc in the first half – and the last basket of the opening half was a half-court bank shot heave from Schröder that made even him shake his head in disbelief. The Lakers had shot 33% or less from 3-point range in eight of their previous 11 games, and with another early frigid display, the Knicks’ defense collapsed in on the paint.
James wasn’t immune from the shooting struggles either: He missed all three of his 3-point attempts in the first half, air-balling a second-quarter look and then rimming out a technical free throw moments later. It was a frustrating start for a player who had drawn out stars like Chris Rock, Michael B. Jordan, Emma Stone and Michael J. Fox for his first appearance in the Garden since Jan. 22, 2020.
But James’ playmaking picked up for his scoring slack: He had five assists in the first half, and midway through the third quarter as he passed to Thomas Bryant for an off-the-glass bucket to pull even with Mark Jackson (10,334) for fifth all-time in career assists. Then on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter, James passed to Troy Brown Jr. for a corner 3-pointer and to Bryant for a dunk to tie, then pass, Steve Nash (10,335) to take sole possession of fourth place.
James is the only player in NBA history to be even top-10 in both career points and assists – much less top-five in both. And now he’s just 89 points from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) to become the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.
More to come on this story.