Before spoiling the big ending between the Timberwolves and Lakers on Wednesday night, let me set up the context to what would ultimately be one of the most controversial endings to this NBA season. With 5 and a half to play in the final period of play, the Wolves trailed LA 106-94 playing in the Target Center. The Pups were hanging by a thread as Dante Cunningham was playing hero due to his red-hot mid-ranger game and Ricky Rubio doing everything to find him for 15-18 footers. With just around 3 minutes left to play, the Timberwolves switched things up and took part in the infamous hack-a-Dwight strategy. Fouling Dwight on every LA offensive possession, the strategy worked brilliantly as the big man hit only 2 of his 8 free throws over the course of the next minute while Minnesota cut their deficit to only 7 points with right around 2 minutes to play. Dwight, who is shooting 49% from the charity stripe on the season, has been unable to significantly improve his free throw shooting since joining the NBA as a 19-year-old, nearly 8 years ago.
Here’s where things got insane. With 3.4 seconds left and Kobe shooting the second of his two foul shots, Minnesota was out of timeouts and was in need of some serious luck in order to extend the game into overtime. As Kobe released the free throw, the ball bounced graciously off of the front of the rim as Rubio found himself able to easily the ball falling right in front of his face. Racing down the court with no timeouts, Ricky dashed the length of the court in order to get up a last second three-pointer in hopes of tying the game and taking it into overtime in front of the screaming Target Center audience. Just as Ricky approached the three-point line in the midst of a race to beat the clock, Kobe’s arm extended from behind Ricky’s head and came down upon the Spaniards’ left arm just as he was releasing the ball. On the right side, Dwight Howard made significant contact with Ricky’s other side before the shot was released, and Minnesota fans paused for a split second before seeing their hopes for three free throws and a shot at overtime go straight down the drain. No foul was called, despite one official having a clear view of the contact right next to Ricky and Kobe quickly headed through to the lockerroom as the game was official, 120-117 in favor of Los Angeles.
I could go on and on about how the referees blew the game and that Minnesota got jipped, but what good would that do? The fact is that the Wolves waited until the very end of the game to stage a run and ultimately came up a hair short to a player and organization that is clearly favored by the National Basketball Association. It would be ignorant to say that the NBA does not want Los Angeles to grab the eighth seed in the playoffs, because if the Lakers are able to grab the final spot there will be a lot more money in this year’s postseason than there would be if, say, Utah jumped ahead of LA.
Regardless of the finish, I was happy to see Minnesota finish this game with some pride while also saving their best play for last. This 24 game losing streak to LA, however, needs to end soon.
Keys of the Game:
- Shot-blocking – The Lakers out-blocked the Timberwolves 9 to 3 as D-12 did an excellent job of setting the tempo in the interior for Los Angeles. With Greg Stiemsma an inefficient bench option and Pekovic lacking vertical leap, the Timberwolves are essentially without a shot-blocker in their current rotation with Chris Johnson warming the bench for the foreseeable future.
- Three-point shooting – After draining 14 threes the night before in Detroit, the Timberwolves were only able to knock down 5 of their 17 attempts while the Lakers nailed 10 of their 22 looks from beyond the arc. Kobe, Nash, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison all hit at least 2 threes for Los Angeles
Three Stars of the Game:
- Kobe Bryant – What’s new? Kobe dominated the Timberwolves for the umpteenth time of his career in route to extending the Lakers current win streak over Minnesota to 24 games. While he definitely got away with a foul on Rubio which could have sent the game into overtime, it was Kobe who did just enough to keep LA from imploding after the hack-a-Dwight debacle cut the Wolves deficit late in the fourth quarter. Kobe finished the night with a line of 31 points (12-21 FG), 7 assists and 3 rebounds in 38 minutes.
- Dwight Howard – Yes, Dwight shot a horrendous 7-17 from the free throw line and was being laughed at by many Wolves fans in attendance, but he also completely dominated the paint in the fourth quarter and finished with 25 points (9-13 FG), 16 points, 5 steals and 5 blocks in 34 minutes.
- Dante Cunningham – Cunningham was Minnesota’s spark in the fourth quarter and his mid-range game was red-hot. Cunningham faced very soft close outs from LA defenders and responded by draining jumper after jumper in the faces of defenders. DC Hustle scored 18 points (9-15 FG) to pair with 4 rebounds in 19 minutes off of the bench.