This game was weird, yet simultaneously predictable in many ways. The Wolves fell behind by a ghastly 29-point margin in the second quarter, managed to pull within 15 points at halftime, were within four points with 5:54 in the game, and still managed to lose by eleven. Horrible, frustrating, expected…..there are a lot of phrases that could be used to describe this game for the Timberwolves and their fans, and most of them are not positive.
Early on, everything was awful from a Wolves perspective. The Lakers were effective in using Pau Gasol down low, and he used his length to simply outplay Nikola Pekovic in the first quarter on both ends of the floor. The Lakers assertive themselves physically on the defensive end without consequences from the officials, and the visitors jumped out to a 24-10 lead. The Wolves could not guard Kobe Bryant with a combination of Luke Ridnour and Ricky Rubio, and the massive size advantage of the Lakers’ starting five overwhelmed Minnesota for the first quarter and a half of the game.
The Lakers’ second unit decimated the Wolves’ bench, despite a hot-shooting Alexey Shved. Earl Clark in particular played exceedingly well, and Rick Adelman’s lineup experimentation did not yield results in the second quarter. A miniscule lineup of Rubio, Barea, Shved, Gelabale, and Cunningham allowed the Lakers to expand their lead to 61-32, fueled by a 17-1 run. The Wolves responded by playing zone defense, and suddenly halted the Lakers’ offensive attack.
Up until the midway of the second quarter, the Lakers had managed to shoot 9 of 11 from beyond the arc. Once the Wolves began playing zone, however, the Lakers were unable to make them pay. The Wolves dodged a number of bullets, including sharpshooter Jodie Meeks missing three wide-open three pointers in a row. Rubio began going to the basket, and orchestrated a 21-7 run to end the half, cutting the deficit to 68-53.
The second half was a frustrating back-and-forth affair. The Wolves pulled within 8 points in the third quarter, but Pekovic turned what could have easily been a 3-point play into a 0-point play when he missed a layup and then missed both free throws. From that point on, the Wolves would draw no closer until the final minutes of the game.
It wasn’t until the final minute of the third quarter when Adelman finally turned to Chris Johnson. His energy and athleticism helped keep the Wolves in the game. Derrick Williams’ effort on the boards was severely lacking in the second half, and Johnson’s tenacity and bounciness caused the older and more stationary Lakers problems early in the fourth quarter.
The Wolves pulled to within four points with just under six minutes remaining when Johnson corralled an offensive rebound and fed Shved for a three-pointer from the top of the key. The score was 94-90, but Gasol easily converted a questionable three-point play and the Lakers never looked back en route to a 111-100.
– If I told you that the Wolves were shooting 52% at halftime and were 6 of 9 from three point range, you would expect them to have the lead, correct? Well, those were the numbers on Friday night, and the Lakers held a 68-53 lead. Los Angeles started the tilt by shooting 9-11 from long range, but missed their next ten attempts. The Wolves’ offense was actually humming along just fine, but the defense was subpar. Combined with the ridiculous rate at which the Lakers were hitting their jump shots, the Wolves stood little chance of keeping pace.
– Rubio played one of his better games of the season, finishing with 9 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals with 3 turnovers in 29 minutes. He got into the lane with frequency in the second quarter and converted some baskets of his own, which helped open up passing lanes to facilitate in the third quarter once he got into the paint. His defense on Nash and Bryant in the zone was solid, and while his jumper yet again was not falling, he looked more confident overall. Encouraging, all things considered.
– Give me a lineup of Rubio, Shved, Kirilenko, Johnson, and Pekovic. See what happens. Talk about long, athletic, and creative….
– Although the second half was better than the first half was for the Wolves, they somehow failed to establish Pekovic down low. He only scored 14 points on 6 of 13 shooting with 9 rebounds in 34 minutes.
– The Wolves converted just 8 of 18 shots (44.4 %) from the free throw line, and finished the game a more characteristic 4 of 13 from long range (10-22 for the game) after starting 6 of 9.
– The Wolves playoff odds are down to about 10%, in my estimation. The next four games are at home, but they aren’t against cupcake opponents, either.
– The Wolves will be back at it Saturday night at Target Center against the New Orleans Hornets at 7 p.m.