NEW YORK — Russell Westbrook was tremendous in the second half of the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 106-100 loss to the New York Knicks, scoring 25 of his game-high 31 points after the break to help get his team back into a game in which it trailed by as many as 25 points in the first half.
The thing is, L.A. had to claw back from that deficit in part because of Westbrook’s first-half play. He had six points on 1-for-5 shooting and five turnovers before the break.
“He just clicks,” Anthony Davis said of Westbrook’s midgame adjustments. “I don’t know if he sees a matchup he likes, or someone’s talking to him on the other team, or a fan. I’m not sure. But whatever it is, we just need that the entire game because it helps us.”
Westbrook got locked in during the third quarter, scoring 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting with three assists, two rebounds, two steals and just one turnover. The Lakers outscored the Knicks by 10 in the period.
He played well in the fourth, too, scoring seven points on 2-for-3 shooting with three rebounds and two assists, but it was a different story for the rest of the team. The Lakers shot 5-for-19 from the field (2-for-11 from 3) and couldn’t complete the comeback, with the Knicks edging them 23-19 in the fourth to hold on for the win.
Avery Bradley (15 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals) said the late-game flameout came because of all the energy the team had to expend digging out of its early hole.
“We were fighting and scrapping to get back into the game,” Bradley said. “I feel like if we do a better job executing our game plan at the beginning, we won’t be in that position and we’ll be able to execute down the stretch.”
Westbrook finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth triple-double of the season, but he also had six turnovers. He came into the game averaging 4.9 turnovers, which was second worst in the league, trailing only the Brooklyn Nets’ James Harden (5.0).
Westbrook took exception to a line of questioning about his turnovers after the game.
“It’s funny you mention turnovers,” he said. “I haven’t heard you ask me that question in about five games. You know why?”
Indeed in the four games before Tuesday night’s loss, Westbrook had 12 total turnovers. In the four games before that, he had a total of 27 turnovers.
“It’s funny,” Westbrook said after feigning laughter. “You guys are funny, man. It’s just making easy reads. I had five [turnovers] in the first half, I had one in the second. So I know I made an adjustment and did a good job of picking my spots and being aggressive and looking to score instead of jumping in the air and making passes.
“So, like I said, it’s an easy fix for me. And I know when I’m making those mistakes and making those turnovers. I mean, the one I stepped out of bounds and I got one before the half. So three of them are kind of like, if you’re actually watching the game, you kind of would be like, ‘Well, OK, that’s different.’ Three of them I kind of threw away. So, I’ll take those three. But other than that, I’ll be fine.”
Davis believes that part of Westbrook’s early woes came from him looking to force feed teammates.
“Russ has to continue to do what he’s doing no matter who’s on the floor. To be himself,” Davis said. “I tell him before every game: ‘Be nobody but yourself. That’s why we brought you here.’ I think a lot of times, he tries to go passive and to start passing the basketball, looking for other guys, which is great, but kind of takes him out of a rhythm. And he can do the same for guys while being aggressive.”
Westbrook offered a similar assessment.
“I thought I didn’t be super aggressive in the first half and tried to find my reads,” he said. “And in the third, we needed to have a push offensively and tried to make ways to be aggressive.”
The loss dropped L.A. to 9-10. Westbrook will have further adjustments to make when the Lakers finish their five-game road trip in Indianapolis and LeBron James returns from his one-game suspension.
Westbrook and James have played only eight games together this season, with L.A. going 5-3, including Sunday’s comeback in Detroit that was sparked by Westbrook after James was ejected.
“We’re finding ways where he’s really comfortable and trying to minimize ways where he’s been getting himself in trouble,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “And I think that’s all part of the integration process, that there’s going to be some growing pains early. But we’re figuring it out and he’s bringing great competitive spirit in the absence of ‘Bron when we’re shorthanded and really willed us to the victory in Detroit and almost did the same tonight. We just fell short.”