LOS ANGELES — The Lakers beat the Knicks 100-94 on Christmas Day to earn their fifth straight victory, one that came in an intense and competitive game that came down to the final few possessions.
Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony each finished with 34 points, J.R. Smith had 25 off the bench for New York, while Metta World Peace chipped in 20 for L.A., along with some stellar physical defense on Anthony in the game’s first half.
1ST QUARTER: LAKERS 25, KNICKS 23
Darius Morris started again for the Lakers alongside Steve Nash in the backcourt, with Mike D’Antoni saying before the game that he didn’t want to continually change his lineups, especially while riding a four-game win streak. He also started off with the defensive assignment on Carmelo Anthony, but with Anthony having a significant size (and skill) advantage on Morris, he scored easily over him on jumpers the first two possessions.
D’Antoni had enough of that nonsense after a little over four minutes, when he sent in Metta World Peace for Morris to check Anthony instead.
Carmelo finished just 2-of-7 from the field for five points, while playing all 12 minutes. The Knicks got a nice boost from Kurt Thomas, who led the team with six points by making all three of his jumpers after good ball movement found him for essentially wide open looks.
On the Lakers side, it was nice to see Nash initiating the offense on virtually every possession, and he ended up with four points and four assists in 10 minutes.
Highlights for L.A. included Pau Gasol finding Dwight Howard for an alley-oop slam, and World Peace finding Kobe Bryant on a backdoor cut for an acrobatic flying reverse layup.
Bryant finished the period with 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, and drove to the basket for an and-1 after holding for the team’s final shot of the period for a good 18 seconds, dribbling the clock down on the wing for one of the longest isolation sets you’ll ever see.
2ND QUARTER: LAKERS 51, KNICKS 49
The intensity picked up considerably in the second period, and each team had a breakout offensive performance from one of its reserves.
J.R. Smith had 10 points in the period, on 4-of-6 shooting, hitting an impressive array of jumpers in the process.
But World Peace was absolutely dominant for the Lakers, scoring 16 second-quarter points on just four shots, including hitting all three of his attempts from three-point distance. World Peace also made life miserable for Anthony, who was 2-of-4 from the field in seven minutes, and suffered some bumps and bruises along the way during those one-on-one battles.
The Lakers offense looks to be much improved in terms of ball movement, and players moving to their spots with high activity and a sense of purpose. Nash and Bryant had one such sequence that exemplified this, where Bryant received the ball in down low, kicked it back out to Nash, who allowed Bryant to re-post before dumping it back in, which resulted in a bucket inside.
Lakers not named World Peace are shooting 1-of-10 from three-point distance, with Pau Gasol being the lone made basket from beyond the arc on a somewhat silly three first-half long range attempts.
3RD QUARTER: KNICKS 78, LAKERS 77
Now things are getting interesting.
Metta World Peace started the second half in place of Darius Morris, presumably to continue the stellar defensive job he did on Anthony. But Anthony had other ideas.
Carmelo was electric in the period, switching his strategy of trying to score inside on World Peace in favor of hitting his patented jumper. He hit his first three for 7 quick points in the third quarter’s first two minutes, and that sparked a 12-2 New York run to open up an eight-point Knicks lead at 61-53.
Anthony continued to do damage to the tune of 17 points in the period, to give him 27 for the game through three.
Kobe Bryant got going in the second half of the period, helping to cut into the Knicks lead with 11 points of his own, including an and-1 bucket with the clock winding down to end the third.
4TH QUARTER: LAKERS 100, KNICKS 94
The Knicks offense that was so red-hot in the third began to stall in the final period, and the Lakers ball movement, led by the exceptional play of Nash, was the difference.
Tyson Chandler and Metta World peace fouled out on consecutive possessions, on equally questionable calls with a little over two minutes to play.
Pau Gasol was relatively quiet with 13 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists, but made two huge plays down the stretch that helped seal it — the first coming on an aggressive post-up attack while Anthony was defending which got him to the free throw line, and the final coming with the Lakers clinging to a 97-94 lead.
With 12 seconds to play, Nash found Gasol streaking down the center of the lane for the powerful slam, which blew the roof off the Staples Center and cemented the Lakers big win over a very good New York Knicks squad.