The Los Angeles Lakers were reeling and the Minnesota Timberwolves were rolling, turning an 18-point deficit into a one-point lead with three minutes to go.
Just when it looked as though the Lakers were going to let another road game slip away, Kobe Bryant showed these young pups just how it’s done in closing time.
Bryant had 35 points and 14 rebounds and Pau Gasol scored 28 to give the Lakers a much-needed road victory, 106-101 over the Timberwolves on Sunday night.
Andrew Bynum added 21 points for the Lakers, who won for just the second time in nine road games this season. But it was Bryant who slammed the door, slithering through the holes in Minnesota’s zone to hit two clutch jumpers to seal the win.
”I don’t know if he’s the best one or not, but in the last quarter, for sure,” said Wolves rookie point guard Ricky Rubio, who had eight assists but just five points on 2-for-13 shooting. ”Maybe during 48 minutes, there are players like LeBron and Derrick Rose who can be in that top position, but at the end of the game, he’s the best.”
Kevin Love had 33 points and 13 rebounds and Michael Beasley added 18 points and 12 boards for the Wolves, who lost to the Lakers for the 16th straight time.
The Wolves dominated many of the statistics, including offensive rebounds (24-7), turnovers (4-11), second-chance points (32-10) and fast-break points (16-0). But they shot just 38 percent and couldn’t find an answer for Bryant, who made 14 of 29 shots and 5 of 9 3-pointers.
Minnesota led 94-93 with 3:19 to play, but the Lakers’ size was too much down the stretch. Bynum threw down two dunks and Bryant attacked the middle for two pull-up jumpers.
”We couldn’t stop him, no matter what we did,” Rubio said. ”He was a scoring machine in the fourth quarter.”
The Lakers staggered into Target Center on Sunday night with four losses in five games and an ugly 1-7 mark on the road. Their struggling offense in new coach Mike Brown’s first season had failed to top 100 points in 13 straight games, the club’s longest streak since the shot clock was implemented in 1954.
But the Lakers shot 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range against the Wolves. On the second night of a back-to-back, Bryant and Gasol played the entire second half. Coach Mike Brown didn’t want those minutes to soar, but he had no other choice.
”That’s what needed to happen,” Brown said. ”I don’t like doing that. Our second unit did a nice job in the first half, but once they went to zone, I thought we needed that experience back in the game.”
What had been a sleeper of a game turned into a heart-pounder in the final 17 minutes.
The Lakers were in complete control midway through the third quarter, shooting 55 percent and suffocating the Wolves offense. Bryant was feeling it, yapping at Wes Johnson after drilling a 3-pointer right in his grill and Gasol’s layup gave the Lakers a 73-55 lead with 5 minutes to play in the period.
”That’s been our Achilles heel,” Love said. ”We’ve been a second-half team the entire year. We just need to come out in the first 24 minutes and replicate what we do in the second half as well.”
Rubio had just one point, two assists and two rebounds at that point, and the Wolves were unable to get anything going outside of Love’s typically efficient night.
Then, Wolves coach Rick Adelman switched to a zone defense and Beasley and Anthony Randolph added some much-needed energy. Martell Webster hit a 3, Randolph threw down an alley-oop from Rubio and the Spanish rookie finished a 19-6 quarter-closing surge with a running bank shot to cut the Lakers’ lead to 79-74 heading into the fourth.
But the Lakers finally started using their size to find holes in the zone and overpower the undersized Wolves.
”We needed to get a win on the road,” Bryant said flatly.
Gasol had an awful night in Milwaukee, shooting 6 of 18. But he was sharp from the start against the Wolves, hitting his first four and scoring 14 on 6-for-8 shooting in the first quarter.
Bryant took over in the fourth, hitting four of his five shots and pulling down five rebounds.
”He hit big shots,” Love said. ”There’s no getting past that. Maybe three or four times he hit it right in my face. I had a hand up and slapped his hand, but seemingly he hit shots over and over. That’s why he’s the best player in the game.”
Notes: Bryant surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most field goals made in franchise history. … Adelman interviewed for the Lakers coaching job. ”I never look back on something like that,” he said. ”When I interviewed, they still had the same people they have now. They’re a talented team.” … With Darko Milicic out sick for the second straight game, Brad Miller made his season debut for the Wolves. He scored three points in 8 minutes.