Tonight’s win in Minnesota wasn’t an easy one to watch. While the 120-117 win is valuable in terms of this team holding off the Mavericks and making the post season, it isn’t exactly the kind of performance you’d like to be seeing heading into the post season either.
The first half of the game was eerily sloppy. They turned the ball over at an alarming rate, 15 times in the first 24 minutes. When they weren’t turning the ball over, they were playing some decent basketball, running the offense through their bigs Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol who combined for 21 points and 18 rebounds on eight-for-13 shooting. Kobe, although turnover happy, was in facilitator mode early and often in the first half and was the last of the Lakers starters to record any points. Antawn Jamison also came off the bench and had a productive first half with 12 points on 4-6 shooting and four rebounds.
Defensively, the Lakers were much improved from their last two outings, but still left much to be desired. Bryant seemed a bit more locked into running his guy off the line and closing out on shooters. They also did a better job of keeping guards (Rubio, Barea) out of the paint in the first half. When the perimeter defense did break down, Howard and, to some extent, Gasol both did a great job of protecting the rim. The ‘Wolves shot 17-of-47 in the first half, which is just above a .360 clip. A lot of Minnesota’s missed shots were a open looks that just didn’t fall, but regardless, the Lakers defense did seem much improved on the night.
In the third quarter, the Lakers played a much cleaner game. The first two possessions of the third were turnovers, but they only finished the quarter with three total turnovers. The offense moved from playing inside-out to Kobe taking over (16 points in the 3rd), but the lack of turnovers allowed for a 41-point third and pushed the lead from four to 12 going into the fourth — and would have remained the same had Howard and Gasol received more touches.
However, the defensive struggles returned for the Lakers in the third, and would eventually spill over to the fourth. Barea and Rubio started getting into the paint while Dante Cunningham and Chase Budinger continually found themselves wide open — a 17-footer for Cunningham and the corner three for Budinger — were what continued to give the Lakers issues.
Regardless, the lead stayed at about 3-possession deficit for much of the second half. But in Laker-Like fashion, the Lakers couldn’t hold their lead and were a non-called foul on a Ricky Rubio desperation three away from seeing the game go into overtime after pushing their lead to 14 points. In the last six minutes of the game, the Lakers gave up 25 points and lost the rebound battle 16-3. SIXTEEN TO THREE. And while it took the Wolves 23 shots to get their 25 points in the final six minutes, the Lakers afforded them nine extra possessions with two turnovers and giving up seven offensive rebounds. Nicola Pekovic, Budinger and Rubio all scored nine points in the final six minutes while the Lakers as a team shot three-for-eight in that same time.
Of course, the ‘Wolves explored the Hack-A-Dwight option for a full minute and cut at 12-point lead to seven during that minute span, but the Lakers never really regained control of the game.
It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless. They’ll have another opportunity to prove that they can win on the road tomorrow night in Milwaukee with a Bucks team that poses a lot of match up problems for this Lakers game. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond after an ugly win despite a few very good individual performances.