The stars were everywhere you looked Saturday night, both on Celebrity Row and on the court, partly due to the lone visit of the season by LeBron James and the Lakers.
But mostly, once again, the packed crowd came to get a glimpse of and cheer on the hottest team in the NBA and in New York sports.
First-time All-Star Jalen Brunson ultimately couldn’t will the undermanned Knicks to their 10th straight win, however, dropping a 113-105 decision to James and his Tinseltown team in a nationally televised showcase game at MSG.
Brunson scored a game-high 36 points with 10 assists — for his ninth game with 30 or more in his last 11 appearances — but the Knicks fell to 15-3 since Jan.1 and to 32-18 overall, dropping back to 1.5 games behind the victorious Bucks for the No.2 playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
“I know where we are, and we have to have the same mindset every single night,” Brunson said before the game. “We need to go out there and be better than we were the day before. And so no matter where we are in the standings, no matter how many we’ve won in a row, my mindset is to be better every single time we’re on that court.
“So, no record, no standing, no accolades are going to make us think differently.”
Donte DiVincenzo buried six more 3-pointers on 16 attempts and finished with 26 points, while Josh Hart contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Knicks, who played again without injured Julius Randle, OG Anunoby and Quentin Grimes.
James, who mostly was guarded by Precious Achiuwa, finished with 24 points, while fellow All-Star Anthony Davis had 11 wth 19 rebounds and four blocked shots for the Lakers (26-25) in their returns to the lineup after sitting out Thursday’s game in Boston.
Before the game, James had called Brunson “phenomenal,” and the 20-time All-Star added he was “super-happy and super-proud” of the Knicks’ point guard for his deserved initial All-Star designation.
You could tell immediately there were a fair amount of LeBron/Lakers fans in attendance when James drew loud applause for a dunk in the opening minutes, which was followed by subsequent two-handed stuffs by Davis and Rui Hachimura and a spin move to the hoop by James.
The Knicks missed their first seven attempts from 3-point range until DiVincenzo knocked down a triple with 3:24 left in the period, but the Lakers held a 27-25 lead through one, with D’Angelo Russell scoring 12 points and Davis grabbing 10 boards in the quarter.
The Knicks missed 12 of 17 from long distance in the half, but DiVincenzo’s third trey of the game pulled the Knicks even with 1:02 remaining in the second quarter en route to a 59-59 knot at intermission. Brunson finished the half with 17, while James netted a dozen.
DiVincenzo nailed another 3-pointer and scored seven points in a 12-5 spurt to open the third, and Isaiah Hartenstein drove the lane for a thunderous slam for a 76-70 advantage midway through the quarter.
Still, Davis swatted consecutive drives by Hart and Brunson, and the Lakers closed back within one on two free throws by Austin Reaves (22 points), who collided with James at the basket as he was fouled by DiVincenzo.
Miles McBride completed a traditional 3-point play, Achiuwa added a driving bicket and Brunson knocked down his first 3-pointer of the game late in the quarter, as the Knicks carried an 86-80 advantage into the final period.
James sank two fall-away jumpers in a 9-0 LA spurt to open the fourth for a three-point lead, before Brunson drove and kicked out to Hart for a game-tying trey from the right corner.
Brunson heard another round of “MVP” chants as he sank a pair of free throws to put the Knicks ahead, but Taurean Prince scored six straight points for a 100-96 Lakers lead with under six minutes remaining.
The Lakers swarmed Brunson with double teams on the next few empty possessions for the Knicks, before a Reaves corner-3 and a baseline jumper by James made it a nine-point game with 1:54 remaining.