LeBron James picked things back up right where he left them, continuing his offensive surge with 29 points in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 122-115 overtime victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday following a five-game absence with swelling in his left knee.
“After the first quarter, the knee loosened up a lot more,” James said after accompanying the points with 13 rebounds and 10 assists to notch his 103rd career triple-double. “My mind loosened up a lot more. And I was just able to play basketball. But just excited to be back in the uniform, back on the floor with my guys. Missed them, missed the game. I was happy I was able to make a few plays and help us win a ballgame.”
Los Angeles went 1-4 without him and his return initially didn’t seem to do much to impact that trend as the Knicks led 42-29 after the first quarter. But James, who stated he “didn’t feel that great” during his pregame warmup as he attempted to play a game for the first time in a week and a half, got it going and so did his team, coming back from as many as 21 points, accounting for the franchise’s biggest comeback since December 2015.
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“It’s a hell of a return,” said Anthony Davis who put up 28 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks. “He’s doing LeBron-type things. Expected nothing less from him. Efficient from the field. S—, he did what he’s supposed to do. He helped us, for sure. So, I missed him. He’s a big part of our team with his voice, his leadership, play-making ability. And he came back and showed it.”
James extended his streak of scoring 25-plus points to 19 games, the second longest streak of that nature of his 19-year career.
He played 39 minutes and 55 seconds on Saturday, which Lakers coach Frank Vogel admitted was more than he wanted to play the 37-year old in his first game back.
“He’s incredible,” Vogel said. “I guess the time off served him well. We didn’t want to play him 39 minutes and obviously the overtime impacted that, but just played a great basketball game. His defensive competitive spirit and IQ is everything to us and the way he scores the basketball in all ways and the way he sets up teammates it’s just, it’s rare and he was special tonight. Just a great performance.”
While James was out, one of his professional athlete peers, Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, retired after 22 seasons in the NFL.
“I personally was just so in shock when I saw it … as a guy who’s kind of been my motivation factor over the last few years, seeing what he’s able to do at his age and always kind of being a leader of a team and even at his age people still gravitate towards him and gravitate towards his energy and how he prepares and things of that nature,” James said. “So, a small piece of me definitely left when Brady decided to retire, that’s for sure.”
James has one more season on his deal with the Lakers, that will take him through 20 seasons in the NBA.
Even at this stage of his career, there’s no disputing his importance to the Lakers. He was a plus-12 in the minutes he appeared on the court, and he played all but one minute and 29 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime to close things out.
“I mean obviously the computer — his ability to process and read offensively, it’s something that’s always missed,” Vogel said. “You miss him on both ends, but I would say in this situation, late game, that’s where you miss him the most.”
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