Newly appointed Knicks president Phil Jackson was on hand to witness the type of performance he hopes to eradicate in the coming years. After a hot start in which they scored the contest’s first eight points, the listless Knicks allowed the shorthanded Lakers, playing without Kobe, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, to go a combined 34 of 46 in the second and third quarters. When all was said and done, LAL had put together one of its better performances on the year in handing the Knicks a 127-106 defeat. LA managed to score fifty-one points in the third quarter, a franchise record.
This was one of the few games I’ve been lucky enough to attend this year, and the atmosphere inside Staples was surprisingly lively when you consider what’s transpired this season. The Lakers seemed to feed off the energy and the knowledge that the game was nationally televised. When you watch a game in person, the little things that you notice when you watch games not on television- stuff like effort, communication on defense, and hustle- becomes much clearer. And yesterday, it was shockingly apparent that the Lakers wanted to win more than the Knicks did. It’s as simple as that. New York was slow on defensive rotations, slow in their closeouts on three-point shooters, just plain old slow.
The Lakers on the other hand, were not. It was the same formula that helped LAL start off
hot decently: up-tempo, push the pace type offense relying heavily on ball movement and three-pointers and defense designed to keep the opponent out of the paint. It was refreshing to see the Lakers play some effective defense for once- they were able to make things tough on Carmelo Anthony, who missed his first seven shots (mostly jumpers). While Anthony did eventually begin to hit those jumpers, the game was well out of hand before he got cooking. What I’m trying to say here is, Anthony was mostly a non-factor despite his 29 points.
Iman Shumpert was completely invisible, as has been the unfortunate truth for Knicks fans recently. He’s really not developed nearly the way anyone in the league or the Knicks’ front office anticipated, and it feels like ages ago that he was regarded as a future building block who could effectively guard LeBron in playoff series’ for New York. If I’d have told you two years ago that Iman Shumpert would be averaging 6.7 points and have a PER under 10 this year, you would have been disappointed in the way he’s developed.
In contrast, the Lakers were excellent last night. Xavier Henry was impressive in his return, going 8-11 for 22 points off the bench in only 23 minutes of action in his first game since returning from a wrist injury. His legs looked springy-fresh and he seemed genuinely excited to be back on the court. That’s something that I think people–me included– have kind of forgotten this year: yes, it’s been a terrible season and the Lakers aren’t anything near a good team, but the players are still living their dream, still playing in the NBA every night for one of, if not the, league’s most famous franchise. For those who don’t have the title-or-bust mentality (so for everyone except Kobe, really), that’s still pretty damn cool.
Swaggy P was excellent for the second straight game, putting up 20 and adding to the historical tone of the evening by notching his sixth 4-point play of the year- a Laker record. He was the first one in Carmelo’s ear all night, as you’d expect and want, as well. Jodie Meeks, who might warrant a few votes in the Most Improved Player voting, hit four of the Lakers’ 18 3-pointers, just one shy of the record set previously this year. It was the type of three-point barrage that Mike D’Antoni’s teams muster when they’re playing well against a team that didn’t come to play. And that was exactly the case- the Knicks really never seemed to interested in putting together a run to get back in the game and didn’t seem all too upset when it was clear they’d lose.
In a season filled with disappointments and too many embarrassing score lines, it was nice to the squad hand down a beating of their own. No matter the circumstances, beating the Knicks is always nice- especially in front of Phil Jackson.