Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined for 84 points on 56.9 percent shooting -- 33-59 on field goals -- to guide the Los Angeles Lakers to a 106-101 road win over the feisty Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday night. After dropping four straight road games, amassing a pitiful 1-7 record away from home on the season and falling out of the Western Conference playoff seeding, the Lakers' big three unwound those painful knots by scoring 80 percent of their team's points and closing out the game with a dominant 12-2 run late in the fourth quarter. Why they ever needed a late run to close out the Timberwolves is another story.
The Lakers had complete control of the game for most of the night, but they did create some excitement down the stretch. In fact, LA trailed for a total of 26 seconds and never by more than two points, but those rare Minnesota leads came in the fourth quarter after the Lakers blew an 18-point third-quarter lead. Pau carried the team early with 14 of his 28 points coming in the first quarter, then Kobe hit four threes in the third quarter (on his way to a game-high 35-points and 15 rebounds) to help grow the advantage to double-digits.
Wolves head coach Rick Adelman opted to employ a 2-3 zone for most of the second half to try and slow down the Lakers' potent frontcourt, but that freed up Kobe to take advantage of single-coverage. The zone did help the home team get back into the game, as L.A. only scored 18 points in the paint in the second half and let the Wolves get back into the game with a dry spell from outside, but the Lakers' trio got things back on track and closed the game out by scoring 24 of the team's 27 points in the final period.
Minnesota never found a stroke from outside, shooting just 38.5 percent on the night as a team, but they crashed the boards effectively, got out in transition and took excellent care of the basketball to compensate. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic each grabbed seven offensive rebounds and helped the Wolves secure a 32-to-10 advantage in second-chance points. Love finished with a team-high 33 points and 13 rebounds on the night.
The weirdest facet of the game emerged in the turnover numbers. Minnesota is a young team that gets reckless with the basketball on most nights -- holding an average of 16 turnovers per game, which is 7th worst in the NBA -- but they only turned the ball over four times as a team against the Lakers. Ricky Rubio still pushed the ball in transition too, as he dished out eight assists without committing a turnover and helped the Wolves create a 16-0 advantage in fast break points. Turnover machine Michael Beasley also limited himself to a single turnover while notching an impressive 18-point, 12-rebound double-double, even if he still did have his less judicious moments.
For all their timely put-backs on the glass and good decisions on offense, Minnesota's dreadful outside shooting prevented them from ever completing the comeback. After fighting back to gain a 94-93 lead with 3:19 remaining in the game, they missed five straight jumpers (one of which Anthony Randolph managed to tip in) over the next three minutes and fell behind by nine in the process. The most exciting moment of the final 20 seconds came when Beasley flashed the "Kobe System" symbol after a fairly meaningless steal and made three to help set the 106-101 final score.
The Lakers improved to 2-7 on the road and 12-9 overall, while the Timberwolves fell to 5-7 at home and 9-11 on the season. To put the loss into perspective for Minnesota, consider this little nugget from the game preview at Canis Hoopus, which is unfortunately still just as relevant after the game:
How long has it been since the Minnesota Timberwolves defeated the Los Angeles Lakers? It was a double overtime win for the Good Guys in which Kevin Garnett had 26 points and 17 rebounds and our starting lineup included Mark Blount, Marko Jaric, Troy Hudson and Ricky Davis. 8 of the 19 players who were involved in that game are no longer in the NBA.
That was March 6th, 2007...
Minnesota has now lost 16 consecutive head-to-head matchups against the Lakers. They do get three more chances to break the streak this season -- a pair of road games at the Staples Center on Feb. 29th and Mar. 16th, and one more home matchup on Mar. 9th.