Prior to Friday night's game against Minnesota Timberwolves (13-14), Coach Mike D'Antoni mentioned that the guys healthy enough to play were excited "about disproving people like they did the first time." Kobe Bryant may not have been in the building, but the Los Angeles Lakers (13-13) took it to the Timberwolves with a team-oriented attack that never allowed Minnesota to play their brand of basketball. If you take away Kevin Love's 9-18 shooting, Minnesota was 24-77 from the field - that will usually result in a loss.
The undermanned Lakers finished with 27 assists on 42 field goals, proving once again that these group of guys can get it done without a superstar leading the way. Pau Gasol, who has been on the wrong-end of rumors over the past few weeks, anchored the team on both ends of the floor; he did an above-average job on Kevin Love, who went scoreless in the fourth quarter, and also chipped in on offense with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists. At least for tonight, PG stood for Pau Gasol.
The highlight of the night came with Gasol's three-pointer with 2:51 left to play in the game to put the Lakers up 97-91. Including that made three-point basket, the last seven points for L.A. came from Gasol. Immediately following the three-pointer, Gasol broke out the Swaggy P three-point celebration with a huge smile back at Young. Given the uncertain future of this roster, Friday night's win was as engaging of a game to watch as there has been all season.
First Quarter [35-26] - Can this Lakers team be any less predictable? The Lakers came out with a ridiculous amount of energy to start the game. Keep in mind, the Lakers were down 47-23 after the first quarter the last time these two teams met. Getting off to a good start was necessary: coming into tonight's matchup, Minnesota led the league in first quarter scoring with 29.5 points per game and a +4.1 point differential, also No. 1 in league.
The series that best exemplified the Lakers' energy came at the 2:25 mark - Kevin Martin, leading a 3 on 1 for Minnesota, went up for a dunk that was rejected at the rim by Chris Kaman; the defensive play turned into a fast-break alley-oop from Pau Gasol to Wesley Johnson. The Lakers played with a sense of urgency on the defensive end, rotating quickly and contesting every shot. They finished the quarter with 10 fast-break points; they average 12 per game on the season.
The team's makeshift point guard Xavier Henry led the way for the Lakers with 11 points (4-7 FG, 1-2 3PM), 3 rebounds, and 1 assist.
Surprise stat of the quarter: Pau Gasol and Wesley Johnson led the team in assists with five and four each, respectively.
Second Quarter [53-51] - Not having any true point guards finally caught up to the Lakers in the second quarter. After just three turnovers in the first quarter, the Lakers turned the ball over 10 times in the second quarter (13 TOs in first half). Young (5), Gasol (2) and Henry (3) combined for 10 of the Lakers' 13 turnovers in the first half.
A 19-2 run gave Minnesota the lead (49-46) with 1:20 left in the half; 20-7 run to end the half. Young & Henry led L.A. with 13 points apiece; Gasol finished the half with 8 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds. Kevin Love led the way for Minnesota in the first half with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 2 assists.
Stat of the Half: Lakers had 16 assists on 21 field goals
Third Quarter [81-76] - Nick Young filled up the stat sheet in the third quarter, putting his total up to 19 points on 7-8 shooting from the field. After the Wolves went on a 10-2 run from about the 4:30 to 2:30 minute mark of the quarter, Nick Young's successful four-point play seemed to swing the momentum back for L.A. Lakers used a 8-2 run to finish the quarter to give them a 81-76 lead.
Halfway through the quarter, the Lakers looked to attack from the post; as Stu Lantz put it, "Whichever big Kevin Love is guarding, that's where you go with the basketball in your half court set." Both Pau and Kaman were able to make in impact in the paint.
Triple Double Watch: Gasol finished the third quarter with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
Fourth Quarter [104-91] - The fourth quarter, by itself, may have been the most enjoyable 12-minute stretch of basketball this team has given the fans all season. Led by Nick Young and Pau Gasol, the Lakers pushed their lead to double digits with quality ball movement and discipline on the defensive end. Young finished with 25 points with 5 made three-point baskets; Gasol finished just shy of a triple double with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists; Henry stayed aggressive all game, finishing with 21 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists. The entire Lakers team stepped up in a big way to get back to .500.
Stat of the Quarter: Kevin Love finished the game with 25 points and 13 rebounds. He had that at the end of three quarters. The Lakers did a remarkable job containing Love in the fourth quarter, limiting him to just 0-2 shooting.
What stood out most in Friday night's win was the resilience the team showed whenever Minnesota made any sort of a run. For example, after a 10-2 Minnesota run put them up 74-73 with a few minutes left in the third quarter, the Lakers found a way to bring every team's sixth man, momentum, back to their side with their own 6-1 run sparked by Nick Young's four-point play.
An enjoyable win for the team after the heart wrenching news Kobe Bryant will miss at least six weeks with a knee fracture.