NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves v. Los Angeles Lakers (Target Center, 29/10/18)

Minnesota have bounced back after their humiliating loss to Milwaukee with a four-point home win over the Lakers, who are now looking at only two from seven despite featuring the best player in the game in their lineup. The game started with a fourteen foot step back jumpshot and a dunk from JaVale McGee to bring the scoreline to two-all with less than a minute on the clock, while an alley oop drunk from Jimmy Butler and a driving dunk from Kyle Kuzma levelled points again a minute later.

 

The scoreline continued to be fairly tight until a three point jumper from Josh Okogie, and a pair of sterling efforts from Karl-Anthony Towns – the first another three point jumper, assisted by Okogie, and the second a driving drunk – saw the Wolves gain a seven point advantage. It was the kind of lead that required a decisive gesture from LeBron James, and he provided it with an assist to assure Kuzma his second driving dunk of the evening, only for a second alley oop from Butler to prove that Minnesota could also double up if necessary

 

Three free throws from Jeff Teague got the Wolves even further ahead on the board, recalling James’ last-minute frustration during overtime against San Antonio. Seeing Teague get three from three therefore seemed to momentarily galvanise the Lakers, with Lonzo Ball notiching up an eight-foot two-pointer off the back of a Kuzma assist, and Brandon Ingram adding a free throw shortly after – an important show of strength after a bit of a spotty opening that had included an offensive foul and a bad pass that left the ball wide open for Butler.

 

Ingram consolidated further over the coming minutes with a driving layup, a fifteen-foot jumper and two more free throws, but not without Derrick Rose clocking up four points, and assisting Gorgui Dieng with a nine-foot jumper, ensuring that the Wolves were still a full four points ahead as the first quarter started to wind down. As it turned out, however, Ingram had saved his best for last, using a Rajon Rondo assist as the platform for a twenty-three-foot three-pointer that was one of the deftest moves of the games so far.

 

A two-pointer from Lance Stephenson and a five-foot jumper from McGee put the Lakers one point ahead with a minute left on the clock, but a patchy passage from LeBron got the Wolves back in the green again by the time the siren sounded. First, it was a bad pass from James that allowed Okogie to clock up two more points, and then it was a missed tip shot from the ex-Cavalier that set up Dieng for a three-point jumper off a Rose assist, bringing Minnesota to 32-36 with twelve minutes down.

 

A free throw from McGee combined with a twenty-six-foot jumper from Stephenson to level the scores again early in the second quarter, only for Butler to make the most of returning for Okogie with a tip shot that unsettled the Lakers enough for McGee to miss a hook shot seconds later. With LeBron picking up a bad pass from Rose, only to miss the subsequent layup, and Dieng turning over the ball moments later, the game was in limbo for about a minute, as each team scrambled to control the narrative.

 

It took a free throw from LeBron to cement things in the Lakers’ favour. While it was only one point, the spectacle of James making a successful free throw couldn’t be underestimated given his late performance against the Spurs, and sure enough the King responded to a three-point jumper from Anthony Tolliver with his first two-pointer of the game. Half a minute later, he assisted McGee with an alley oop dunk, only to be subbed off for Kuzma just when he was starting to come into his own.

 

No surprise, then, that the Timberwolves consolidated again in James’ absence, with a personal foul from Kuzma three seconds after returning to the court laying the platform for a jump shot from Butler. A bad pass from Rondo, and a steal from Tyrus Jones, saw Tolliver make a dunk a moment later, returning all the momentum to Minnesota. For a minute, it looked as if Rose might single-handedly quash that momentum, thanks to a missed layup, missed tip shot and missed free throw, but a pair of successful free throws, and an assist for a Towns three-pointer, allowed the Wolves to self-correct before things got too out of hand.

 

Nevertheless, they’d shown the Lakers a chink in their armour, and a dunk from Ingram, a layup from Kuzma and a layup from Ingram saw the scoreline narrow to two points, as a series of alternating advantages saw ownership of the game grow more and more contested as the end of the second quarter drew near. A layup and free throw from LeBron proved to be the critical difference – and, once again, it was probably the free throw that had the biggest impact, galvanising LeBron into a dunk, and Kuzma into a three-pointer that saw the Lakers come away with a two point lead.

 

It was critical, then, that Los Angeles continue their momentum going into the third quarter, and yet a pair of misses from Ingram – first a layup, then a tip shot – swung the balance back in the Wolves, with Taj Gibson making a pair of free throws – still one of the best ways to intimidate this particular Lakers lineup – and Okogie putting in a sterling dunk off a Towns assist. A LeBron layup was momentarily marred by personal fouls from both Ingram and Josh Hart, but Hart made up for it by assisting a driving dunk from McGee that put the Lakers four ahead of Minnesota.

 

It was during this time in the game that LeBron really started to congeal as a leader – or, rather, that the team started to feel capable of being led by LeBron – as an assist gave Ball a layup that maintained a three-point Los Angeles lead. Appropriately, LeBron was the next to score, with a beautiful twelve-foot step back jumpshot, but not without the Wolves having started their comeback with a pair of free throws from Towns, and a layup from Towns.

 

That kind of one-man effort can really motivate a team, even when the King is on the other side, and sure enough Minnesota started to regather some focus and clarity in the second half of this quarter, with a Gibson dunk and a two-pointer from Teague proving key to the Wolves’ gradual recapitulation of momentum. A sterling effort from Towns and Teague around the four-minute mark went a long way to neutralizing a superb twenty-five-foot three pointer from LeBron, as well as a LeBron assist for a Stephenson three-pointer, but – once again – a pair of free throws – this time from Okogie – turned out to be the motivational difference, galvanising Okogie to assist a Tolliver dunk, and paving the way for four successive points from Rose.

 

To maintain the lead in the face of that escalating rhythm, LeBron had to make another gesture of leadership – and he did so with a brilliant step back jumpshot that, combined with a missed two-pointer from Rose, kept the Lakers one point ahead as they took a brief respite to prepare for the final quarter. LeBron bookended the break with another superb effort – a twenty-four-foot three-pointer – but the Wolves started to creep up, levelling the score at 97-97 after a Rose free throw, and then 99-99 after a Dieng free throw.

 

Finally, a three-pointer from Butler at the ninth minute coalesced the Minnesota lead – which they had glimpsed but never quite secured over the end of the third quarter – into a three-point advantage, only for LeBron to contribute a seventeen-foot pullup jump shot that reiterated just how much he was guiding and orchestrating the team at these crucial moments. With three points from Butler, two from Rondo and then two from Ingram, the scoreline was set again at 105-105.

 

The last and most crucial chapter of the game came when LeBron returned for Ball at the sixth minute, although, ironically, his return just seemed to consolidate the Wolves further, as a pair of free throws and a three-pointer from Towns offered a steely statement of purpose to the visiting Lakers. Once again, the main antidote was yet another prodigious gesture from LeBron – this time a twenty-four-foot three-point jumper – although that marked the end of point scoring until the three minute mark, when Kuzma managed a free throw following a shooting foul from Towns.

 

Even then, though, the Lakers were six points behind, and while a tip shot from Kuzma and driving layup from LeBron might have narrowed the margin to two, Butler and Towns gathered all the team’s momentum into one magnificent riposte to their loss to the Bucks. You could almost see the team collectively insisting that the Milwaukee game was an anomaly as Towns succeeded in netting his final two throws – a painfully pertinent end to the night for the Lakers, despite a closing three-pointer from Ingram, especially as it had been preceded by a missed three-pointer from LeBron that might just have won Los Angeles the game.

 

The Lakers are going to have to do some soul-searching, then, to figure out how they can best use LeBron’s talents and managerial skills when they take on the Mavericks at home. Meanwhile, this was a great reprieve for Minnesota, who are going to be anxious to put their loss to Milwaukee even further behind them when they take on Utah in Minneapolis on October 31.

About Billy Stevenson (256 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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