LeBron James was back, Malik Monk started over Avery Bradley, and Lakers fans got what they wanted. And while it looked horrible for 24 minutes as RJ Barrett went off for 21 points over the first two quarters and the purple and gold trailed by 20 for a good chunk of the first half, Monk exploded for 18 of his 29 points in the third quarter to bring the Lakers all the way back and help them ultimately close out the New York Knicks, 122-115.
The 21-point comeback was the Lakers’ largest of the season, and biggest since 2015.
Russell Westbrook (5 points on 1-10 shooting, 4 turnovers) played one of his most actively damaging offensive games of the season, and in the first half, his awful shooting — in combination with a completely toothless bench lineup was so bad that it led to the L.A. native getting booed by fans at home — ensured the Lakers looked hopeless.
But while Westbrook never got much better on this night, Monk made sure it didn’t matter in a sensational third quarter during which he hit shots so audacious they might make Stephen Curry blush.
And thanks to the return of James, Monk had some help. The 37-year-old looked spry in his first game back from a five-game absence, getting to the basket at will to finish the night with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, even closing the game out with a tip dunk in overtime. Add in the continuing two-way brilliance of Davis — 28 points, 17 rebounds and 4 blocks and 3 steals — and it was enough for the team to outscore the Knicks in the second half to actually complete a comeback, rather than falling just short like they normally have this season. Especially encouraging was the way he and Davis bullied the Knicks in the paint down the stretch.
Unfortunately, missed free throws from Westbrook and Monk in the final minute gave the Knicks the breathing room they needed to send this game to overtime and make it more stressful than it needed to be, but the team — after benching Westbrook for Talen Horton-Tucker in OT — made the plays it needed to in order to close this one out over the extra five minutes. Westbrook did not enter multiple timeouts during the extra frame, talking to DeAndre Jordan off to the side, clearly upset.
It’s hard not to believe it’s the sort of thing James was not-so-subtly referencing in his postgame interview on ABC...
LeBron talking about Russ????? pic.twitter.com/TBMNGRWlVy— Italo Santana (@BulletClubIta) February 6, 2022
...even if he was a little more political afterwards:
LeBron, on his message to Russ.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) February 6, 2022
"I told him to text me later. I told him to keep going, stop second-guessing himself... He's an instinctive player, with what he's done in this league, he should never second guess himself... I have the utmost confidence in his ability."
The version of this squad we saw for most of the second half is the one that true believers always hoped for. The one that showed up in the first (and in the final minute of regulation) is the disappointing version we’ve seen all season. It’s been a year-long conundrum, but thankfully for L.A., on this night, the good variant showed up when it mattered most, leaving a glimmer of hope that this team can overcome even Westbrook’s worst nights to show what they can do in spite of their highest-paid player. The Knicks are a bad team, but at 26-28, the Lakers can’t be choosy about victories. They needed this one, and their two stars and best offseason addition delivered it for them.
In the wake of this victory, the Lakers will now get two days to rest and regroup — and let the injured Carmelo Anthony get healthier — before hosting the Milwaukee Bucks in The Crypt on Tuesday.
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