Gasol responded, “I don’t dunk as often as I used to so it felt good. I took it right down the lane and finished strong.”
Nash had 16 points, 11 assists and six rebounds in his second game in nearly two months. He missed 24 straight games while recovering from a small fracture in his lower left leg. Howard had 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Gasol had 13 points and eight rebounds.
“It was an important win for us as we were a little bit desperate,” Nash said. “We’ve gone through a lot since Mike Brown — new coach, new offense. It’s been a difficult transition.”
Bryant had eight of the Lakers’ first 10 points to open the fourth during a run that provided their first lead since the opening quarter in a game matching the two teams that have played the most on Christmas Day.
“They just were a little bit more aggressive,” Anthony said. “Kobe got it going and Steve Nash hit some big shots down the stretch. When you have a guy like Nash doing that, it’s kind of tough. Those guys know how to play. They’ve been waiting for Steve Nash to get back, so it’s just a matter of then sticking it out until he did.”
The Knicks opened the third on a 15-5 run, with Anthony setting up on the perimeter and hitting two 3-pointers as part of his 10 points that stretched their lead to 61-53. His jumper provided the Knicks‘ largest lead of the game, 69-60.
Bryant and Nash ignited the quiet atmosphere by leading a 17-9 run that drew the Lakers to 78-77 going into the fourth. They combined to score 15 points, although Bryant missed two free throws to end the third that would have given the Lakers their first lead since early in the game.
The Knicks‘ earlier roll dissolved in missed shots and a technical on Chandler for arguing a call.
“We were more determined, fought for everything,” Nash said about the second half.
World Peace scored 16 points in the second quarter, including eight in a row, when the Lakers played catch-up most of the way. His 3-pointer gave the Lakers their first lead of the period with 1:10 remaining. Smith tied it up with a free throw before Nash’s jumper sent the Lakers into halftime leading 51-49.
“We’re playing really well together,” World Peace said. “Kobe is really playing excellent now. He’s still being aggressive on the offensive end, but he’s giving everybody a chance to be aggressive. Pau is making strong, aggressive moves.”
Bryant scored the Lakers’ final nine points of the first quarter to give them a 25-23 lead. D'Antoni’s plan of having Darius Morris guard Anthony didn’t last long after he scored five of the Knicks‘ first seven points.
“I thought he’d get warmed up before he started firing,” World Peace said.