The Lakers were without a suspended LeBron James and the Knicks were minus Derrick Rose. The Knicks handled Rose’s absence with a lot more aplomb.
The Knicks built a 24-point lead in the first half and saw the Russell Westbrook-led Lakers roar back to tie the game late in the third quarter Tuesday night.
But the Knicks put out the purple-and-gold fire and survived, 106-100, before a sold-out Garden crowd of 19,812.
They survived because of a backcourt trio Tom Thibodeau wove together in the fourth quarter.
With point guard Kemba Walker glued to the bench for all but two seconds of the fourth, a backcourt threesome of Immanuel Quickley, Alec Burks and Evan Fournier closed with panache even as Julius Randle sat with foul trouble.
Quickley (14 points) hit four straight 3-pointers in the final period to seal the deal and move the Knicks to 10-8, while the Lakers (9-10) slipped under .500.
“Big shotmaker,’’ Thibodeau said of Quickley. “It’s interesting in the beginning of the year, he started off and wasn’t making it and it didn’t faze him one bit. They are his shots. If they’re in and out, he’s always thinking the next one is going in. Great shooters have short memories. He does.’’
Even without James, and Anthony Davis playing despite the flu, the Lakers probably would’ve won this if they didn’t come out sleepwalking and ifCarmelo Anthony didn’t have one of his season’s worst outings, going 3 of 14 from the field.
While Anthony struggled, Fournier broke out of a recent funk, had his smoothest game since the season opener and played the fourth quarter.
Fournier poured in 26 points, making 6 of 9 3-pointers.
“He was terrific — I thought Evan was not hesitating,’’ Thibodeau said. “We did a good job searching him out early and he got in a good rhythm. I thought our starters played really well to get the lead for us. We had a good rhythm to our offense.’’
The Knicks entered the contest averaging just 99 points in their prior seven outings.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,’’ Thibodeau said.
Despite five fouls, Randle, the former Laker, added 20 points and 16 rebounds. Randle got a technical foul from the bench in the fourth quarter, but it didn’t cost the Knicks the game.
“I’m not going to comment on it, bro,’’ Randle said.
He did see good signs otherwise.
“Once we start clicking, we’re going to be a really, really good team, and we’re starting to take a step in the right direction,’’ Randle said.
Carrying on without Rose (sore ankle), arguably their craftiest player, the Knicks didn’t blink and nearly blew the Lakers out of the building in the first half before settling for a closer victory.
An 18-point third quarter by Westbrook (31 points) got the Lakers within 83-81 after three periods as they rallied back from a 24-point deficit.
“I like to know the stat how many times we had a 15-point lead and lost it,’’ Fournier said. “We have to play the same way up 20, down 10. We can be really good, man. We just have to trust how we play.’’
Despite the bad third quarter, Thibodeau still trusted Fournier, their $78 million man, in the fourth quarter. And that hasn’t been a common occurrence.
“Of course I’m more comfortable on the court than on the bench,’’ Fournier said. “Obviously as a player you want to stay on the court as long as possible. I enjoy the moment — 100 percent.’’
Wearing for the first time their new black City Edition jersey, the Knicks inaugurated them in style, jumping all over the Lakers, who wore gold with purple trim.
It was 10-0 before five minutes had expired as the visitors looked like they were golden zombies, playing as if they didn’t care much. The Knicks were flying.
In building that early bulge, everyone chipped in. Fournier drained two 3s — one off a Nerlens Noel offensive rebound. Randle scored the game’s first basket on a punishing drive inside against Davis. And Walker darted to the hole for an uncontested layup.
“I liked our fight,’’ Randle said. “We got off to a good start. We withstood their run. They have great players, they’re a great team. A 24-point lead isn’t safe the way the 3-pointer is shot.’’