The Los Angeles Lakers have now won 22-straight games over the Minnesota Timberwolves and they did so with a little help from the officials. We'll get to that in a moment, though.
The TWolves kept it close through the first quarter. As per usual, they began the game looking for Pekovic down low--to establish that presence in the paint. Pek certainly delivered on that as he scored 10 of his 19 points in that first quarter. On the other end, it was Pau Gasol getting going early. They looked to get their big man going in this one, finding him for a number of easy looks as he'd finish with 9 of his 17 in the first quarter.
The Wolves continued to keep things close in the second quarter. Chase & Alexey both had 5 points off the bench as the Wolves led a balanced scoring attack through halftime to trail just 46-50. At halftime, the TWolves had one player in double figures (Pekovic, 13). The Lakers had a fairly balanced first half (scoring) as well. They ended the half with two players in double figures (Jamison & Howard--both with 12). At the half, the Wolves were down 46-50.
The Wolves came out in the third quarter and scored 33 points! Unfortunately, they allowed the Lakers to go for 41 and take a 12-point lead after three quarters. Kobe Bryant scored 16 of his 31 points in that third quarter as it looked as though he wanted to put the Wolves away and sit for the remainder of the game.
And for the first part of the fourth quarter, Kobe was able to sit down on the bench, but the Wolves put together a nice run--got themselves back into the game and forced D'Antoni to bring his starters back to the floor.
Let's recap the final three minutes of this game...
Out of a Lakers full timeout, Ricky Rubio hit two free throws to make it a 10-point game 101-111. That's when Adelman decided to employ the "Hack-a-Howard" strategy. Ridnour intentionally fouled DH and he went to the line for two free throws. Dwight missed both free throws and Dante Cunningham came down with the defensive rebound. The Wolves came up empty on the ensuing offensive possession as Pau Gasol blocked Budinger's three-point attempt and Ridnour missed a 13-footer off the o-board.
The Wolves again fouled Howard and sent him to the line for two more with 2:40 to play. Howard again missed both and Budinger grabbed the defensive board. Rubio was blocked on a driving layup by Howard on the next possession, but Ridnour grabbed the offensive board and found Dante Cunningham for a wide-open 19-footer to make it 103-111 with 2:24 to play.
The Wolves again fouled Howard and sent him to the line, where he went 1 of 2 (missing the second). Budinger missed a layup on the other end, but Dante was there for the offensive board found Chase for the driving layup.
The Wolves again fouled Howard who went to the line and made 1 of 2 (missing the first one). On the other end, Dante Cunningham made a jumper on a Rubio assist, which made it 107-113 with 1:58 to play.
The rule with intentionally fouling a player off the ball is that it cannot be done with under two minutes to play. Stupidly, Ridnour again fouled Howard at that 1:58 mark. Thus, the Lakers could choose any player to shoot two free throws and then they'd also get the ball back. Steve Nash stepped to the line and made 1 of 2 to make it 107-114. On their extra possession, Kobe Bryant missed a three-point jumper that probably would've sealed the Lakers' W.
Pekovic secured the defensive board and Rubio raced up the court to hit an off-balance jumper to make it 109-114 with 1:35 to play. Steve Nash would make a bad pass on the next possession that Rubio easily intercepts. Rubio found Dante for a wide open jumper, but he missed, fortunately Budinger was there for the offensive board and the putback, 111-114 with 1:08 to play.
Everyone knew who the ball was going to go to here. Steve Nash passed the ball to Kobe and he brought it up the court. He sized up his defender a bit (Budinger) before driving the right side of the lane and pulling up for the patented fadeaway Kobe jumper. It (of course) found bottom to put the Lake Show up 111-116 with 48 seconds to play.
Out of a full timeout, the TWolves again found Dante for a wide-open jumper which he knocked down, 113-116, 39 seconds to play.
The Lakers ran some time off the clock and eventually found Jodie Meeks for a mid-range jumper on the following possession. He missed, but Pau Gasol was able to tap the offensive rebound out to mid-court (toward Kobe Bryant). The Wolves had two defenders around Bryant and Dante ran toward Kobe to intercept the ball (and did), but knocked Bryant to the floor, sending him to the line with 15 seconds to play. Kobe hit 1 of 2 at the line to make it 113-117. Out of a 20-second timeout, Chase Budinger missed a three-pointer, but Dante was again there for the offensive rebound and this time, the putback. That made it 115-117 with just 11 seconds to play.
The Wolves intentionally fouled Nash who went to the line and hit two free throws to push the lead back to four: 115-119. Ridnour missed a jumper on the ensuing Wolves possession and yet Nikola Pekovic was there for another offensive board and putback (on a Howard goaltending call) to make it 117-119. The Wolves then intentionally fouled Kobe Bryant who walked to the line for two free throws with 3 seconds to play. He went 1 of 2 (missing the second). Rubio grabbed the rebound and quickly raced up the court for a last-second desperation three-pointer to tie the game and send it to overtime.
As Rubio jacked it up from just inside the halfcourt line, Kobe Bryant came across his arms and CLEARLY fouled him. The refs were too cowardly to make the call, Kobe got credit for a 'block', the shot fell well short and the Wolves lose their 22nd straight to the Lakers.
Without a doubt, no foul was called because of who committed said foul. Superstar treatment at its finest. Had that been a guy like Jodie Meeks or Earl Clark, there's no doubt that Rubio would've been at the line for three free throws.
Rubio said after the game, "I don't like to lose...sometimes it's tough when you give everything and something like that happens."
Kobe Bryant had a few words of his own: "That's not a foul, no, they ain't calling that shit. I don't think I got him. That's a tough call to make." It's only a tough call to make because he's Kobe Bryant. Bryant also added this insult, when asked if the foul would've been called, "We would have gone into overtime and won the game. It's as simple as that."
I've always been about giving a player his due respect and with Kobe's illustrious career he's earned that respect. Unfortunately, humble isn't in Kobe's dictionary and it's hard to respect a player who doesn't respect his opponent. That being said, I've never been a Kobe fan and this game just further fuels that fire.
Pekovic finished with 19 & 16 against one of the NBA's premier low-post defenders. Dante Cunningham was HUGE in that fourth quarter, he finished with 18 on the night--16 of which came in the fourth. Budinger finished with his highest point total since coming back from that knee injury and he also came up big in the fourth, scoring 9 of his 14. Williams added 15, but continues to have lower and lower numbers on the boards. He's had games of 8-12 boards this season and he's recently slipped on that--something he'll need to pick back up in these last twelve games. Rubio had 13 and added a few boards, a few steals and 7 assists. Barea, AK & Luke all finished with 11.
The Lakers were led by Kobe who ended the night with 31, 23 of which came in the second half. Dwight Howard finished the game strong, scoring 11 of his 25 in the fourth. Jamison added 18 off the bench and added 10 points to the Lakers' 2nd quarter totals.
The Lakers played just three subs: Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake & Earl Clark. Without Metta World Peace (who tore his lateral meniscus on Monday and is expected out 4-6 weeks) this team is going to struggle in these last few weeks of the regular season. I really don't think this team has what it takes to make it into the playoffs. Sure, they have the talent, but they don't have the cohesiveness.
With them making the playoffs they'll likely face either the Spurs or Thunder. It will be a good series, but a well-oiled machine like San Antonio or the defending Western Conference Champs will dispatch the Lakers in that first round.
But hey, I guess that's better than 25-45 and not making the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season. BLAH. That's all for now, thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!