Behold The Champs: Knicks 114, Lakers 109: “Take a bow, iHart….”

The New York Knicks’ journey has been full of bumps in the road through their first three gamesOverall, Monday’s trip was disappointing.

A disappointing loss to the Utah Jazz was followed by a historic performance from Jalen Brunson in the win against the Suns, but any good feelings were quickly swept away by a 22-point loss at the hands of the LA Clippers. With the Knicks looking for answers, Monday’s game against King James and AD should be an uphill battle.Mitchell Robinson’s absence proved costly: Before Monday’s game, the Knicks had given up an average of 132 points per game in the previous six games, four and a half of which were played without a healthy Robinson. The team’s defensive identity had all but vanished into thin air, leaving a defensive coach searching for answers. The Knicks would need to win in Los Angeles to tie on the trip out west, making the score 2-2.Whenever the Knicks and Lakers face off, there is always an air of drama surrounding the game. A head-to-head matchup between two of the league’s most storied franchises is always special, and with both teams looking like playoff threats this year, there was no shortage of headlines leading up to the tip-off. Finished? Let’s do it!About 0.000001 seconds into the game there was already (bad) news. Jericho Sims sprained his ankle while jumping on the opening point. He tried to play until the end, but after three minutes and two quick fouls, he left the game and never returned. Isaiah Hartenstein was expected to be the five most of the night and the Knicks had no other durable options on their bench. The Lakers are one of the strongest teams in the league, so the game would be decided in the trenches. The first quarter went back and forth, with both teams taking time to find their feet early on. AD dominated early on both ends of the court, but the Knicks began to go on the offensive.Randle started aggressively and finished the first frame with 10 points. In a back-and-forth game, the Knicks went on a 14-4 lead at the end of the quarter. Quickley scored the aforementioned three points in the final second of the first quarter, extending the Knicks’ lead to 35-27 after one. It was a similar story in the second quarter: The Knicks had buckets in the paint, but the three-ball didn’t fall. A consistent dosage of Randle, Brunson, Barrett and Quickley has proven effective. On the other hand, the Lakers also missed a few simple shots, allowing New York to keep them at bay.What’s worth noting here is that without another true 5 on the roster, the Knicks turned to senior Taj Gibson in the first half to get crucial minutes. Isaiah Hartenstein took the short end of the stick in big minutes and battled with Anthony Davis along the boards all night, but Taj was the only other big option on the bench.New York held a solid lead for most of the quarter, but near the end of the half, the Lakers caught fire and went on a massive 19-6 run. The Knicks were unable to finish the half and lost the lead until halftime. The Lakers up by one, 58-57.The Knicks recovered well in the third quarter. Although the Lakers extended the lead to five early, a balanced offensive attack from the four starters plus Hartenstein caused the Lakers real problems. While the Lakers initially had success with LeBron and AD getting to the basket, the Knicks finished the third period up 15-2 thanks to a few 3-pointers from IQ, Grimes and Brunson. New York’s lead increased to 90-80 with one period remaining. LeBron showed up big at the start of the fourth and reminded us why he is the greatest player of the 21st century. Even at 38, he still has it. He went to the circle at his discretion. He found the open man. He scored or assisted on 15 of the Lakers’ first 19 points of the fourth quarter and had a big impact in the game. He would finish the night with a stat line of 25-11-11, the 109th triple-double of his career.However, the Knicks were able to withstand the Lakers’ knockout blow and countered with attacks of their own. Jalen Brunson made some great plays down the stretch. Isaiah Hartenstein worked on glass. But with 3:36 remaining, the Lakers cut the Knicks’ lead to just four. Then this happened.

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