For much of the opening 3.5 quarters on Tuesday, the Lakers hardly looked like one of the top defenses in the league. From the trade deadline to the end of the regular season, the Lakers had the second-best defensive net rating in the league.
But the Lakers were being gashed open from beyond the arc through the first half and into the third quarter against the Timberwolves. That was perhaps the most concerning of the many things going wrong for the home side at the time.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the Lakers comeback was bolstered by its defense tightening the screws. The faucet was turned off for Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, as both were non-factors for the final 18 minutes of the contest. Minnesota’s offensive approach of standing and looking at one another for 20 seconds helped, but the Lakers defended those final four seconds of the shot clock well.
After the game, when asked about the 15-point second-half comeback, LeBron James pointed to the defense as the catalyst.
“We are a scrappy team,” James said. “Listen, at the end of the day, it’s a 48-minute game and you have to, no matter whether you’re up or down or whatever — in the third quarter I think we were down 68-53 at one point — we know we’re one of the best defensive teams in the league. That’s where we hang our hats. In order for us to get into games, we have to hang our hats on what we’re great at and that’s on the defensive side and we did that.”
Over the final 19:02 of the game, the Lakers outscored the Timberwolves 47-26 to turn a 15-point deficit into a 6-point victory. In that span, Minnesota shot 10-35 (28.6%) from the field, 3-17 (17.6%) from the 3-point line and had 10 turnovers, matching their total number of field goals in that span.
The Lakers held the Timberwolves to 12 points in the 4th quarter, and just 3 (Conley FT's with 0.1 left) in the final six minutes.— Alex Regla (@AlexmRegla) April 12, 2023
Let's take a look at how they did it
The Lakers offense in that span wasn’t all that more efficient, which is its own problem, but when a defense can just shut a team down like the Lakers did and can, it makes any game feel winnable. And, specifically in the playoffs, having an elite defense often leads to title contention.
The Lakers have that and Tuesday was the latest, and one of the best, examples of just how dominant they can be on that end of the court.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.