LOS ANGELES — It didn’t have to be this dramatic. But we’ve seen the Los Angeles Lakers play all season.
But after all the tears, anger, frustration, and emotions in this drama, the Lakers are going to advance to the playoffs as the #7 seed after they defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves in an overtime affair, 108-102.
It’s the same ol’ thing for these Lakers from Los Angeles. After coming out with a burst of energy, they turned into vegetables sometime in the first half.
Whenever Karl-Anthony Towns was on the floor, the Wolves looked like a well-oiled machine. With Rudy Gobert not parked inside the paint, the Wolves played a nice 5-out offense that kept the ball moving and gave them open shots. The Lakers have lost a lot of games where opponents would make timely threes against them. Minnesota isn’t the greatest three-point shooting team (13th in the league) but when they’re getting open looks like they did in the first half, they’re going to take advantage.
The Lakers did roar back with a 14-2 run halfway through the second. Then Mike Conley, who was very unflappable against the Lakers, helped the Wolves counter back with their own 14-2 run. He made a couple of threes in that burst. The Wolves led the Lakers, 60-49, at the break. Los Angeles looked like they were in real trouble and was going to be a victim of their lack of energy yet again.
Karl-Anthony Towns continued to make shots. Taurean Prince and Kyle Anderson made consecutive threes to grow the lead to 15. Still, a Malik Beasley three punctuated a 9-2 Lakers run. The Lakers were able to get within reach by the end of the third, 86-79.
The fourth quarter was rough to watch.
A Mike Conley three put the lead back up to 10. The Lakers didn’t score for about three minutes before Anthony Davis scored a tough lay-up (with the foul). They were able to cut the deficit to 89-86. What we saw for the rest of the fourth quarter was just suffocating defense (on both sides, quite frankly) and ugly, mucked-up ball like we had 5th and 6th graders playing at recess.
After Conley made yet another three to put it up 95-88 with 6 minutes left, we didn’t see the Wolves score a field goal for the rest of the period. L.A. had a tough time scoring, too, but they were able to get points off free throws and a putback dunk. LeBron was able to tie the game with a wing three at 95 with two minutes left.
The game was still tied with 30 seconds left. Austin Reaves threw in the inbounds pass but Taurean Prince was able to steal the ball. LeBron got called for a foul when he tried to dive for the loose ball. Still, Lakers stood their ground and Kyle Anderson went over and back for to give the ball back to Los Angeles.
LeBron ran down the clock and was able to get the ball to Dennis Schröder in the corner (a very similar play against Charlotte when they lost). This time, the result was different:
We thought that was it. However, Anthony Davis repeated what he did in a loss against Dallas. He foolishly fouled the three-point shooter in Mike Conley.
Conley’s first free throw bounced in before calmly making the next two. We went to overtime. Of course, they did.
Rui Hachimura got the overtime party started with a three. Dennis Schröder would follow that up with a lay-up. After an Anthony Edwards dunk (he struggled mightily on the offensive end), Davis caught a high pass from LeBron and put in a strong lay-up to get a five-point lead back.
After turnovers involving moving screens, Edwards got in a finger roll to cut the deficit to three. Then it repeated once again. LeBron’s inbounds pass got stolen by Conley. They were able to get the ball to Taurean Prince for a corner three… but it missed this time. A rebound and a few free throws later, the Lakers are now the real 7th seed in the Western Conference.
I don’t know if this is really who the Lakers are. I expected them to really turn it up for this whole game. They did at the fourth quarter; they limited the Wolves to 16 points in the last 17 minutes. Minnesota also committed 11 turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime. But it’s maddening to see them “switch it on” when the game is about to be dangerously out of reach. We’ve seen them beat top teams and we’ve seen them dominate teams despite the not-so-impressive 43-39 record. Maybe they’re just that inconsistent.
But a win is a win. It’s going to be their demise (I make it sound like they’re really going to die; I assure you that’s not what I’m trying to say here) if they keep being lackadaisical for prolonged periods of time. It’s why a lot of people (including Laker fans) say they’re not a serious team.
The Wolves melted down at the end themselves. Suddenly, Karl-Anthony Towns was uninvolved in the offense (for him to not ask for the ball when he was one-on-one with Reaves or Schröder is pretty damning). Anthony Edwards had a miserable offensive game. After starting off 16 for 32 (.500) from three, they missed their last 9 attempts from downtown. Only Conley seemingly kept the team afloat down the stretch and even he didn’t score in overtime.
As for the Lakers, they were definitely carried by LeBron and Davis. D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves struggled from the field. Dennis Schröder was great all game, even before he made that go-ahead clutch three. Their two stars are going to need more help when they go against the Memphis Grizzlies starting on Sunday. LeBron made some good decisions with the ball, yes, but he’s also made some careless passes in the game.
I had mentioned focus and energy. I also mentioned Minnesota’s three-point shooting. Well, the turnovers are the other key to this game. Both teams had 20 each (I mean, that fourth quarter was a real grind) so they kind of canceled each other out. But Lakers can’t keep giving the other team extra possessions like that.
LeBron James ended with a 30-10-6 line. Anthony Davis went for 24 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and two steals. Schröder came off the bench to score 21 points.
Oh, yeah. I should add one apology to AD’s statline.
The Wolves were led by KAT with 24 ponits but he only shot the ball twice after the third quarter. That’s unacceptable. Mike Conley was huge with 23 points (he scored 9 of the Wolves’ measly 12 points in the fourth). Kyle Anderson nearly came away with a 5×5 line at 12 points, 5 rebounds, 13 assists, four blocks, and four steals.
While the Wolves get a second chance at the playoffs on Friday (they play the winner of the 9/10 game between the Pelicans and the Thunder), the Lakers get a long rest and start their series against the Grizz on Sunday. I can honestly say that with the Grizzlies beat up themselves, the Lakers have a pretty good chance at winning this series.
But for now, rest. The Lakers are officially back in the postseason after a one-year absence.