Lakers outlast Knicks on LeBron's return; Monk catches fire

Alder Almo - Philstar.com
Lakers outlast Knicks on LeBron's return; Monk catches fire
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers controls the ball against RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks in the third quarter at Crypto.com Arena on February 05, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Ronald Martinez / Getty Images / AFP

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey – In a matchup between two teams underperforming to heavy expectations, the Los Angeles Lakers got a much-needed boost from LeBron James’s return and their bargain acquisition in the offseason. 

James dropped a triple-double while Malik Monk fueled their furious second-half rally to outlast the New York Knicks, 122-115, in overtime Saturday night (Sunday, Manila time) at the Crypto.com arena in Los Angeles. 

James picked up from where he left off and had 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in returning from a five-game absence due to a left knee injury. 

It was James’ fourth triple-double of his 19th season in the league. 

“He’s incredible. I guess the time off served him well,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We didn’t want to play him 39minutes, but overtime impacted that. He was special tonight. Just a great performance.”

James’s breakaway dunk off an RJ Barrett turnover triggered an 11-4 finishing kick in the overtime. 

“After the first quarter, the knee loosened up a lot more, my mind loosened up a lot more, and I was able to play basketball,” James said. “I’m happy I was able to make a few plays to help us win.”

While James made the clutch plays, Monk, one of their veteran minimum signings in the offseason, provided the scoring spark early in the second half. 

The red-hot Monk replaced Avery Bradley in the starting lineup and sustained his hot-shooting with 29 points on 11 of 20 field goals. Over his last 21 games, Monk is averaging 16.8 points on a 44.9% clip from behind the arc. He nailed 4 of 8 3-pointers against the Knicks. 

Monk had 24 in the second half that saw the Lakers wipe out a 21-point deficit, their largest comeback since 2015. 

“[Monk] alone beat the Knicks in the third quarter,” said Anthony Davis, who also delivered a monster game with 27 points and 18 rebounds. “He was able to get us going, get our juice going with our rhythm offensively going, and was able to help us to carry that into the fourth quarter and overtime, play with a little bit more swag on the offensive end.”

In the third quarter, Monk outscored the entire Knicks, 18-13. 

Thibodeau warned about Monk during his pregame media availability. 

“We should be aware of him,” he said. 

The Knicks heeded Thibodeau for the first 24 minutes limiting Monk to only four points on 2 of 7 shooting. Then they forgot about it after halftime. Monk went on to torment them, hitting nine of his final 13 shots. 

The Knicks, who were hot off the gates, scored a season-high 71 points in the first half. But even after squandering a 21-point lead, they refused to just roll over and die.  

Barrett scored on a transition dunk and hit the game-tying three that sent the game into overtime. The third-year wing defended James while scoring a career-high 36 points on the other end. But it was not enough. 

The Knicks have lost eight of their last 10 games and are now 1.5 games out of the play-in tournament as they continue a tough five-game West Coast trip in Utah on Monday (Tuesday in Manila).  

“That’s a game we should’ve won. I felt like overall obviously we played well, but not good enough,” Barrett said. 

James and Barrett were seen locked in a tight embrace postgame. 

The Lakers superstar later revealed he had known Barrett since his high school years. 

“I’ve been on RJ for quite a while now,” James said. 

James met Barrett in Toronto one summertime when he was still with the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

“I think he was a high school junior or senior, and there was a call to my agent, Rich (Paul), that there was a kid in Toronto that was possibly next,” said James referring to Barrett’s potential. “It was the offseason, and I was in Toronto. I’m just having a good time in Toronto, but I was going to the gym to get some work in. They called Rich if he could join, and I was like, ‘absolutely.’ So, I’ve known him for quite a while, and I followed him throughout those last few years of high school and obviously off to Duke and now as a Knick.”

Randle returned to his last year’s All-Star form against the team that originally drafted him. The Knicks’ bruising forward finished with 32 points, 16 rebounds, and five assists in easily one of his best games amid a season of struggle. 

But it was Barrett who continued his rise as the Knicks’ primary scoring option since New Year, bouncing back from an early-season slump. He added eight rebounds and five assists in another solid all-around performance.

“He’s young, so he’s going to have bumps and bruises throughout the course of your career. When you’re young and figuring out the game, if you’re under-speed, you forgot the tempo and things of that nature, but I think he’s handled extremely well especially being it’s a different light and different heat when you play for the Knicks,” James said of Barrett. “He’s handled extremely well.”

James noted Barrett’s 17 points in the first quarter that was the catalyst of the Knicks’ hot start and the clutch shots he hit to force overtime. 

But James scored a dozen of his points in the fourth quarter and overtime to outduel the Knicks’ rising star.  

The Lakers improved to 26-28 despite another dud game from Russell Westbrook.

Westbrook struggled for five points on 1 of 10 shooting and got booed again. He was on the bench while the Lakers closed out the win. 

"The best part of this game is that you win," said Westbrook, who was professional in the postgame despite the pointed questions about his benching and offensive struggles. "Guys competed. We won the game, and that's all that matters."


Alder Almo is a former senior sportswriter for Philstar.com and NBA.com Philippines. He is now based in Jersey City, New Jersey, and writes for the New York-based sports website empiresportsmedia.com. 

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