Goodbye Mark Jackson. Adios Steve Nash. Night-night to Madison Square Garden.
While the NBA world is waiting to crown LeBron James the scoring champion, the four-time MVP flashed his other elite skill Tuesday by collecting 11 assists and beating the Knicks at his favorite arena Tuesday, 129-123.
It required overtime because Jalen Brunson carried the Knicks on his back, but the Lakers dominated the final five minutes and James finished with an impressive 28-point triple-double.
James is now 88 points below Jabbar for the most in NBA history, a mark of highest distinction he should surpass within two weeks. He reached another milestone Tuesday by cracking the top-4 in all-time assists.
James started the evening in sixth and passed both Jackson and Nash with his 10,338th assist. The rest of the list will be tough to catch for James — No. 3 Chris Paul (11,246 assists and still active), No. 2 Jason Kidd (12,091) and the untouchable No. 1 John Stockton (15,806).
Of course, Tuesday’s game went down to the wire. A tradition for the Knicks (27-25) this season.
Brunson was the hero in regulation, connecting on the game-tying runner with 24 seconds left and drawing a charge on Anthony Davis on the ensuing possession. It set up a potential Knicks game-winner with four seconds left, but Julius Randle shrunk in a big moment and couldn’t even get up a shot.
Randle struggled all evening, failing to provide Brunson with much cover. Interestingly, coach Tom Thibodeau benched RJ Barrett for much of the fourth quarter and all of overtime as the Knicks lost their second straight.
Earlier in the contest, Brunson drew a charge on a bulldozing James in the paint. He’s not the quickest and can’t jump very high, but Brunson, who entered the night second in the NBA in charges drawn, is more than willing to put his body on the line.
Although the official excuse was a sore foot, James sat out Monday’s game in Brooklyn to ensure his availability and preparedness for MSG. It was his first game back at the Garden in three years, with an injury and suspension ruining his previous two opportunities.
His presence brought out the crowds and excitement, providing a big event that has been largely missing from the Garden this season. James’ pregame warmups were a spectacle just because of the cameras and crush of spectators.
James long ago labeled MSG his favorite court the visit, and, at age 38, it’s no guarantee he’ll come back.
“The Garden’s always been that way,” Thibodeau said. “I’ve experienced it both ways. Obviously being an assistant here in the 90′s and then coming back and coming in with opposing teams it’s the most unique building in the league. Players love playing here. There’s no other fan base that’s like it. There’s no other building that’s like it. So we understand it.”
The energy and atmosphere was ramped up because of James and the Lakers (24-28) with Knicks owner James Dolan filling his baseline row with celebrities — Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, actor Ben Stiller and former Rangers goalie Henrik Lundquist.
Spike Lee was also in attendance but predictably not next to Dolan.
They witnessed James swishing but also dishing.