Early in the first half Saturday night, it seemed like the verdict was finally in.
Kendrick Nunn, Dwight Howard and Carmelo Anthony were all sitting on the bench injured. The New York Knicks, one of the worst offenses in the NBA, were torching the Lakers’ defense and Russell Westbrook missed a shot off the side of the backboard.
Louder than they have all season, boos filled Crypto.com Arena.
The big swings the team took this summer had all missed, at least in the sense of making the Lakers winners. And the evidence was quickly mounting in front of a national TV audience and restless home crowd.
But then there was Malik Monk, maybe the summer’s biggest bargain and the Lakers’ greatest offseason success. And Saturday, because they got that one right, the Lakers fought off disaster (a couple of times).
With the Lakers down 21 to the floundering Knicks, Monk triggered a furious comeback, his 18 points in the third changing the game and leading his team to a 122-115 overtime win.
Signed for the minimum this offseason after some up-and-down seasons in Charlotte, Monk’s been one of the unquestioned wins for the Lakers’ front office.
“It’s perfect,” Monk said when asked about his fit with the Lakers.
Monk’s heroics were almost outdone by the Lakers’ own collapse at the end of regulation.
The Lakers blew a seven-point lead in the final 77 seconds in the fourth quarter thanks to awful free-throw shooting, head-scratching defensive decisions and miserable offensive execution.
But thanks to a triple-double from LeBron James — 29 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists — and a late three from Trevor Ariza, the Lakers were able to hang on.
The ending wasn’t without serious drama, the Lakers letting RJ Barrett get loose to bring the Knicks all the way back to tie, thanks in part to some ill-timed Westbrook gambles that left the Lakers’ defense vulnerable.
Coach Frank Vogel benched Westbrook for overtime, electing to go with Talen Horton-Tucker.
It was the team’s biggest comeback of the year and the largest since 2015.
Monk, inserted into the starting lineup along with the returning James, scored 29 points — 25 coming in the second half when the Lakers outscored the Knicks by 15.
After missing the last five games because of swelling in his left knee, James was back on the floor after being upgraded from “doubtful” to “questionable” earlier in the day. He went through a pregame workout, the final hurdle to being cleared.
“Just gave it a shot and see what happens,” James said. “And we saw what happened.”
He didn’t show many signs of rust, extending his streak of games with at least 25 points to 19. And worries about his condition were answered with James playing nearly 40 minutes.
Anthony Davis, who had played some of his most aggressive basketball with James sidelined, didn’t slow down as he finished with 28 points and 17 rebounds.
“A hell of a return,” Davis said of James.
But it was Monk who made the difference, his confidence and play making just enough to make up for a very rough night for Westbrook, who was booed again after missing an uncontested three in the fourth quarter.
The shot came after Westbrook hesitated despite being wide open. At the next stoppage of play, both Monk and Anthony, who missed the game because of an injured hamstring, encouraged Westbrook to shoot confidently and decisively.
But that confidence was visibly shook as he made just one of 10 from the field and, at his best Saturday, mostly stayed out of the way on the offensive end. He missed a pair of free throws to murmurs from the crowd, helping keep the Knicks alive.
He was also just three for seven at the line.
Westbrook did make a key defensive stop during the Lakers’ comeback, turning a Knicks fast break into a turnover and three-pointer (from Monk) on the other end.
Like he did earlier this season, Vogel kept Westbrook out of the game in the closing minutes, a decision that, this time, helped the team get a desperately needed win.
“The best part of this game is that you win. Guys competed,” Westbrook said. “We won the game and that’s all that matters.”
The Lakers quickly fell behind the Knicks, New York hitting their first five shots and quickly building a double-digit lead.
Facing the 24th-ranked offense, the Lakers allowed 42 points in the first quarter and 29 in the second. And then in the third, Monk outscored the Knicks by himself, New York managing just 13 points.
“We took it upon ourselves to actually play some defense,” Davis said.
Barrett led the Knicks with 36 points and Julius Randle scored 32 to go with 16 rebounds and seven assists.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism