Knicks guard Jalen Brunson drives past Lakers forward LeBron...

 

Knicks guard Jalen Brunson drives past Lakers forward LeBron James in the first half of an NBA game at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Knicks’ winning streak is over at nine, thanks to a vintage LeBron James and an outstanding defensive effort by the Lakers.

James scored 24 points and the Knicks collapsed in the fourth quarter in a 113-105 loss to Los Angeles at a super-hyped-up Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The Lakers hounded Jalen Brunson with double teams nearly every time he touched the ball through most of the fourth quarter, daring his teammates to pick up the scoring slack. That didn’t happen. After Brunson (36 points, 10 assists) hit a three-pointer with 1:12 left in the third quarter to give the Knicks an 86-78 lead, the Knicks shot 3-for-20 and were outscored 27-10 in a span of 12:32.

“They started out [the fourth] with energy,” Brunson said. “We didn’t make enough plays on both sides of the ball. Just got to give them credit.

“I think our defense helped us stay in the game as long as it did, and then obviously shots didn’t fall for us. We did have a lot of good looks, but they made it tough.”

The Knicks went nearly seven minutes without a point until Donte DiVincenzo (26 points) hit a jumper with 39 seconds left to bring the Knicks within 105-98. His three-pointer with 7:25 remaining had given the Knicks a 96-94 lead, but the Lakers responded with a second 11-0 run during their surge. Brunson scored seven points in the last 20 seconds as the Knicks hit their final four shots, but by then the game was over.

“At the start of the fourth, we’re up six,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We had a big turnover, gave up a three in transition. That momentum turned the game right there.”

Austin Reaves scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and Anthony Davis, a dominating presence on defense as the Knicks went cold, had 12 points, 18 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots for the Lakers.

Isaiah Hartenstein had 15 rebounds for the Knicks (32-18), who fell to 18-6 at home with only their third loss in the last 18 games.

The Garden was hopping from the opening tip, and not just because the home team had won nine in a row.

James coming to MSG is still an event. Even though he hasn’t said he’s going to retire anytime soon, the 39-year-old is aware that every visit to the Garden could be his last. Even if he plays next season, what if James is injured during the Lakers’ one visit?

It’s special because, at this point in his career, it’s fleeting.

“Of course,” James said on Saturday morning when asked about wanting to play at MSG. “It’s the Mecca of basketball, one of the most prestigious arenas to play in in the history of sports. For me to be able to grace that floor throughout my career has always been a treat.”

James might have showed how he feels about this game by sitting out (along with Davis) in the Lakers’ victory in Boston on Thursday. James is nursing a sore left ankle. Davis has a sore hip and a barking Achilles.

“Physically, I mean I’ve been better, but I’ve been a lot worse,” James said. “Very proud of our efforts in Boston. Those guys stepped up and played exceptional basketball. Beautiful to see, beautiful to watch.”

Thibodeau was asked to contemplate the eventual end of James’ career.

“The greatness of our league,” he said, “when you think about it — and I’ve been around for a while — each era is a little different and you always hate to see when a great player retires. You want him to play forever. But there’s always new guys coming along. The young guys coming into the league, they’re remarkable, too. So the pipeline is full. They’re coming from everywhere, all over the world. Everyone steals from everyone. So each generation seems to get better and better — the skill level. But I have a great appreciation for what he’s accomplished.”

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