Although it wasn't as easy as some assumed, it was actually pretty damn hard, the Lakers were able to stave off the shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves in overtime, 108-102.
With the win, the Lakers escape the play-in tournament and secure a first-round matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies. And yes, Dillon Brooks has already begun talking.
The duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis didn't have their best games but proved good enough when it mattered to squeak out the comeback win.
It was Dennis Schröder, however, that earned the game ball. After rolling his ankle in the first half, Schröder was sensational in the final two quarters. His feisty point-of-attack defense was pivotal in the team’s defensive resurgence in the fourth quarter, and his 3-pointer in the closing seconds looked to be the game-winner before it wasn't.
With the seventh seed on the line, it was pure playoff intensity Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Early on, both teams came out looking a bit nervous as there were missed shots, hard-nosed defense and more turnovers than buckets.
Despite being without Rudy Gobert due to his physical altercation with teammate, Kyle Anderson, and Jaden McDaniels due to his self-inflected injury, the Timberwolves embraced their role as underdogs.
Behind a more streamlined offensive approach, Minnesota fed the ball to Karl-Anthony Towns early and often. The gameplan worked, as Towns dominated the first quarter and the majority of the first half en route to a lead on the scoreboard.
KAT goes over-the-shoulder on this NIFTY feed!— NBA (@NBA) April 12, 2023
Watch LAL/MIN in the #ATTPlayIn on TNT. pic.twitter.com/yzwQXV2IWN
Rui Hachimura helped jumpstart the stagnant Lakers’ offense, scoring seven points in the opening frame alone. However, Minnesota proved resilient all night, quickly retaking the lead as they ended the quarter on a 5-0 run to go up by six.
Beyond Towns’ stellar individual play, Minnesota’s collective 3-point shooting was hot out of the gates and never cooled down. They finished the night with 16 makes (39%) from behind the arc. The Lakers’ perimeter shooting on the other hand, struggled to get going.
The LeBron James’ led bench unit lineup in particular struggled when Anthony Davis was on the bench, as the Timberwolves extended their lead to as many as nine. The Lakers were able to regain some momentum thanks to Austin Reaves as his and-1 helped ignite the home crowd.
Austin Reaves HUGE and-1 pic.twitter.com/xaCUeSaqGe— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 12, 2023
However, Minnesota once again responded, as a staggering 14-2 run handed the Lakers a double-digit deficit at the break.
Minnesota continued to weather the storm in the third, getting just enough shooting and contributions from their rotation to keep the Lakers at bay. A late surge by James and Schröder kept it close heading into the final frame, but it would be up to the team’s defense in the fourth to step up if they wanted to avoid a costly loss.
Despite finally getting to the line and picking up their defensive intensity, the final 12 minutes remained closely contested thanks to the Timberwolves’ continued hot shooting from deep as Mike Conley and Taurean Prince finished a combined 10/15 from three.
Fortunately, the Timberwolves finally went cold, and with 2:02 left James drilled a massive three to tie the game.
#PLAYOFFMODE IN LOS ANGELES! pic.twitter.com/7wQ9jboL2a— NBA (@NBA) April 12, 2023
The Lakers had their chances to seal it, but it was sloppiness down the stretch that nearly burned them as Prince stole the inbounds pass with just 30 seconds left. Davis forced a backcourt violation to regain possession with the shot-clock now off. After Schröder hit the potential game-winning three, a foolish closeout by Davis on a Conley three sent the veteran point guard to the line. Conley calmly drilled all three to send the game to overtime.
In the extra period, the Lakers responded by scoring the first five points as Schröder made a key runner and helped force a Minnesota turnover. After a Davis finish at the rim over Towns, the lead was back up to five and it was fittingly Schröder who hit a pair of free- throws to at last put the Timberwolves away for good.
It was a disappointing game in multiple regards for the Lakers. Most of the rotation struggled to make an impact, their defense wasn't sharp until the closing stretch and their focus wavered throughout.
They ultimately did just enough to come out of the game with a win, but they will undoubtedly have to be better come Sunday when they kick off their series with the Grizzlies. Until then, exhale Lakers’ fans. We’re just getting started.
You can follow Edwin on Twitter at @ECreates88.