After sustaining two embarrassing losses to Detroit and Washington to begin their three-game road trip, the Los Angeles Lakers managed to come away with a 105-102 victory last night over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were without All-Star forward Kevin Love due to injury.
The Lakers were down early and looked out of it, but managed to shake off whatever was ailing them and finish strong in the second half, led by Kobe Bryant (34 points) and Andrew Bynum (26 points, 10 rebounds). Pau Gasol, despite hearing his name in numerous trade rumors throughout the day, was able to maintain his focus, and came up with a huge block towards the end of the game to seal the victory.
The Lakers came out flat to start the game, resulting in a score of 33-21 by the end of the first quarter; Bryant had eight points in the period.
The second quarter was better for the Lakers, as the bench alongside Andrew Bynum began to gain momentum for the Lakers. Head coach Mike Brown opted for a change amongst his reserves, bringing out seldom-used Josh McRoberts and Jason Kapono instead of Andrew Goudelock and Troy Murphy. It proved to be a good move early on in the second, as the combined efforts of reserve forwards Matt Barnes and McRoberts translated into eight points (four apiece). However, the biggest contributor was Andrew Bynum, who scored 13 points in the second quarter and had 16 points for the first half. The Lakers entered halftime down, 58-49.
The third quarter was the difference-maker for the Lakers, who outscored the Timberwolves, 29-20. Derek Fisher came through with three huge three-pointers, and Pau Gasol was able to get going as well, scoring two consecutive buckets at one point. With the game tied, 78-78, the stage was set for an intense fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter, unlike the first half, would not disappoint. The Lakers and Wolves traded baskets much of the fourth quarter, each battling to break open a lead.
With the game winding down, Kobe Bryant attacked fast, and strong to the basket; blowing past his defender and throwing down a two-handed dunk to put the Lakers up, 97-95. On the very next posession, Andrew Bynum blocked a shot which led to a fast break, resulting in a Derek Fisher lob to a fired-up Andrew Bynum, who threw it down with authority to extend the lead to 99-95.
The T-Wolves would answer with a basket, keeping the game within reach, and then Luke Ridnour dropped in a crucial three, which placed Minnesota ahead, 100-99, with 1:20 left on the clock.
With less than a minute left, Andrew Bynum went to work in the post. He set up for one of his flip/hook shots, but Derrick Williams (22 points, 10 rebounds) made a critical error for the Wolves by attempting to block Bynum’s shot on its way down, which resulted in a goal-tending call and gave the lead back to the Lakers, 101-100 with 34.7 seconds left.
Williams would try to redeem himself on the very next play, and missed his shot, but Nikola Pekovic, who had a huge game (25 points, and 13 rebounds, six offensive), tipped the ball in to once again shift the lead back to Minnesota, who led 102-101 with 28 seconds left on the block.
Then on the next play, Bryant, driving around Ricky Rubio to get inside the three-point line and likely towards one of his “sweet spots” near the elbow, was fouled. Rubio, however, fell to the floor in agony, grasping his left knee. There appeared not to be much contact between his and Bryant’s knees, but perhaps he twisted his knee awkwardly while trying to guard the Black Mamba. Regardless, Bryant went to the free throw line with 16.4 seconds left, and sunk both free throws; Lakers, 103-102.
On the final play of the game, Derrick Williams had the ball and was defended by Metta World Peace, who was playing solid perimeter defense. Williams drove around World Peace and attempted to take a shot in the middle of the lane, but was contested and then blocked by Pau Gasol (Gasol appeared to block the shot on his way down). The Lakers got the rebound, and Bryant was fouled. Bryant, who was 8-8 from the free throw line prior to the foul, drained both free throws to put the Lakers up, 105-102, and that was that.
Bryant finished the game with 34 points and four rebounds on 11-26 shooting from the field (2-6 from three, and 10-10 from the free throw line). Andrew Bynum had an efficient, dominant game with 26 points (on 11-15 shooting), 10 rebounds, and three assists in 43 minutes of play (the most by any player in the game last night). Pau Gasol added 12 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. Metta World Peace (four rebounds, two assists) and Derek Fisher (four assists, three rebounds), each contributed nine points. As for the bench, Matt Barnes had eight points and five rebounds (three offensive), Josh McRoberts had five points and seven rebounds, and Steve Blake had just two points, but dished out five assists.
Behind Pekovic and Williams, Ricky Rubio and Michael Beasley also had solid games for Minnestoa; both scored 15 points, with Rubio dishing out 10 assists and grabbing four rebounds. Wes Johnson scored 11 points, and Luke Ridnour scored 10.
Now, let’s break down the Lakers’ victory.
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