The Lakers got some closure with a four-point win over the Timberwolves when they met at Staples Center on Thursday night. One minute in, LeBron made a statement of purpose – an 18-foot step back jumpshot – and while Derrick Rose might have responded immediately with a three-pointer to put the Wolves ahead, it was also clear that LeBron was prepared to lead even more emphatically than last time they met.
Sure enough, LeBron clocked up two more points a minute later, although it only took Rose thirty seconds to respond with a dunk, setting the stage for a one-on-one contest that would pervade the entire game. It was a big gesture, then, when Karl-Anthony Towns blocked a 5-foot layup from the King, but an assist to a 2-foot dunk from JaVale McGee got the ex-Cav back in the game, even as Rose responded with an assist of his own to catalyse a superb 26-foot three point jumper from Andrew Wiggins.
A second block from Towns on LeBron galvanised the Wolves, and while Ingram might have managed a 14-foot pullup jump shot immediately after, the real sequel to Towns’ defensive effort was a 26-foot three point jumper of his own. With Kuzma making an offensive charge seven seconds later, the Lakers needed to regroup, and yet a full timeout didn’t seem to make much difference, since they’d barely been back on the court for ten seconds when Rose assisted Jimmy Butler with a three point jumper.
What the Lakers needed was some weakness from Minnesota, and they found it with a missed driving layup from Rose and an offensive misread from Towns – the two players who had arguably been most instrumental in the early push from the Timberwolves. No surprise, then, that LeBron found the energy for a driving layup shortly after, although a three-pointer from Wiggins in turn was a challenge to the King to show how much he could really steer a subpar team.
Things got personal between Rose and LeBron once again at the five minute mark, as a pair of free throws from Rose was succeeded by a Lonzo Ball-assisted driving layup from LeBron, only for Rose to draw on Butler for a 26-foot three point jumper. Butler assisted once again when Towns clocked up a hook shot a minute later, but in the interim McGee and Ingram linked up for a superb alley oop that signaled the Lakers’ refusal to lie down and take another defeat from the Timberwolves.
Both teams were neck and neck as the first quarter wound down, but the tipping point in Minnesota’s favour was probably an alley oop drunk assisted by Jones, although a Rondo-asissted three point jumper from Hart meant that the Lakers were able to have the last word despite being two points behind. Misses from Jones, Chandler, Rondo and Stephenson meant that Los Angeles lost a fair bit of momentum at the start of the next twelve minutes, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope only scoring their first points two minutes in, with a Rondo-assisted three pointer.
To their credit, though, the Lakers defended well meaning that by the time that McGee and Rondo had linked up for a 2-foot alley oop dunk shot, and Josh Hart had made a 26-foot three point shot, the two teams were level at 38-38. The scoreline locked again at 42-42 after a pullup jump shot from Butler and a hook shot from McGee, with the points continuing to alternate fairly regularly, and Butler and LeBron both playing critical roles in assisting the pointscoring for their two teams.
A 26-foot three point jumper from Rose marked the turning-point at which the Wolves started to really build a convincing lead, and not even five points from LeBron – the first two minutes out from the break, the second thirty seconds – could get the Lakers back ahead, with a LeBron-assisted running pullump jump shot from Kuzma narrowing the scoreline to two points as the teams headed into half time.
The third quarter started as quietly as the second quarter, with errors and misses from LeBron, Towns and Rose putting both teams into second gear for about two minutes. A solitary driving layup from Wiggins was all that distinguished this opening section – a pointscoring vacuum that could have gone the way of either team, only for two assists from LeBron – the first for a McGee dunk, the second for a Kuzma jump shot – to wrench the momentum back in Los Angeles’ direction.
Sure, Rose might have responded with a pullump jump shot of his own, but it now led to a string of Timberwolves misses, rather than a resurgence of momentum, with the Lakers’ surviving the aftermath of Rose’s effort to clock up five more points off a 6-foot shot from Kuzma and then an Ingram-assisted alley oop from Ball. Things stabilised a bit more in the final minutes, but the Lakers had managed to make a dent in the Wolves’ earlier lead, and a closing pair of three point jumpers from Jones and Rondo narrowed the scoreline to two points as the third quarter came to an end.
Yete again, both teams found it hard to regroup at the start of the last twelve minutes, with only a pair of three throws from Hart breaking a seemingly endless string of errors and misses from Rondo, Tolliver, Dieng, Okogie, Caldwell-Pope and LeBron. Still, LeBron steadied the ship, drawing on Rondo for a 27-foot three point jumper, and then adding in a free throw for good measure to put the Lakers three points ahead.
Another scramble ensued, with Butler clocking up four points with a 27-foot three point jumper and a free throw of his own, but LeBron was right where he needed to be to assist McGee with a dunk and then get a 26-foot three pointer off a Kuzma assist. A tip shot from Taj Gibson levelled the scoreline once again at 101-101 with just under four minutes left on the lock, only for a pair of misses from Towns and then Gibson himself to gift the Lakers the leader after a Rondo-assisted three point jumper for Ingram.
The last few minutes of the game were amongst the most desperate that the Lakers have played all year, thanks in part to a renewed energy and focus from Rose, who clocked up three-pointers at the three and one minute marks, both of them assisted by Wiggins, along with a step back jumpshot to rival LeBron’s 8-foot solo effort a minute before. All of a sudden, the game had condensed to these two kings trying to wrest the action into their control, so a missed three point jumper from LeBron with fifteen seconds on the clock initially seemed to promise the Wolves the game.
Nevertheless, a personal take foul from Gibson gave Kuzma the opportunity for a free throw, necessitating a full timeout out from the Timberwolves for nine seconds to go. It worked out better for the Lakers, though, giving them a bit of breathing space. Worse still for the Wolves, it was followed by Rose missing a three point jumper of his own, while a personal foul from Butler allowed Hart – who had just come onto the court – to win the game for Los Angeles with a pair of free throws.
In a strangely anticlimactic turn, then, LeBron and Rose were both elided, in these final moments, from the game they had been so instrumental in shaping, just as their spectacular gymnastic efforts all turned out to stand or fall on the back of a couple of free throws. While it was undoubtedly a cathartic win for the Lakers, they’ll thus be looking for even more decisive victories when they Kings, Hawks and Trail Blazers yet again over the coming days, as they continue to adjust to a new team dynamic.