The Wolves defeated the Lakers last night in a 120-119 barnburner at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant missed a wide-open three point shot that would’ve won the game at the buzzer.
- Zach Lavine: Lavine made shots. The media made a lot out of his psychology in this game because he was squaring off against his childhood hero, Kobe Bryant. Lavine played by far his best game as a pro. He had 18 points in the second quarter alone (28 for the game), and shot 11-14 from the floor. He and Jeremy Lin were locked up against each other for much of this quarter, and Lavine looked confident that he could get any shot he wanted against Lin. Lavine’s shot selection leaves plenty to be desired and maybe always will — a lot of his makes last night were of the “dribble jumper with plenty of time on the shot clock” variety — but you feel a lot better about it when the shots actually fall, and he doesn’t look surprised by the result.
A lot of times before last night, it looked like Lavine simply shoots to try to get his self going, but doesn’t really expect the ball to go in. Last night was a different story. As athletic as Lavine is, it goes to show how important timing and rhythm are for his offensive game. He was well within the flow of what was a very fast-paced game last night. Hopefully he can take away some lessons about why he was so successful last night and has looked so poorly on other nights.
But it bears emphasis: Lavine put together one of the best games that any rookie plays this season.
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- Mo Williams: It wasn’t clear that Mo was going to play last night. If he didn’t, the Wolves wouldn’t have won. He stepped into, and made, big shot after big shot. He had 25 points and 11 assists. Williams’ defense is really bad, but he played as hard as he’s capable of. His effort on one play — ending with Mo diving and sliding for a loose ball — was borderline inspiring. Hats off to Williams for coming up big and providing the steady hand at the point that the Wolves can’t count on with Lavine in the lineup as the point, and Rubio injured on the bench.
Andrew Wiggins: Wiggins was given the unenviable task of guarding Kobe Bryant. Like most defenders, rookie or veteran, Wiggins struggled to find the right balance of aggressiveness against Bryant. This was pretty clear down the stretch, when Wiggins twice bit on Kobe’s pump fakes. Kobe drew a foul on one possession, getting Wiggins in the air, and Wiggins actually put both of his hands behind his head on at least two different Kobe shots to avoid giving the refs an obvious foul call. Bryant drew body contact on one and got to the line for a pair. On the game’s closing play, Wiggins didn’t close on Bryant, leaving Kobe with a wide-open look for the game-winner, which clanged out. It was neither a good or a bad defensive performance by Wiggins. But it certainly was a learning experience. On offense, Wiggins shot only 1-6 from the field and ended the night with three points. You wonder how much his defensive assignment distracted him from developing any sort of offensive flow. Fortunately, other players were hitting.
Thad Young: Young had a nice second half after playing an abysmal first half in his second game back after bereavement leave. I’m critical of Thad, less because I dislike him and more because I’d like to see more of his minutes go to Anthony Bennett and Shabazz Muhammad. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t compliment his effort and play down the stretch. I’m not sure that the Wolves would’ve won last night with either Bennett or Muhammad taking Young’s second-half minutes.
Corey Brewer: Brew f*cked around and almost got his self a triple-double. (Brewer had 13, 7, and 8.) And he filled the stat line fairly quietly – uncharacteristic fashion for Brewer. He was burned twice by Nick Young, when he overplayed the passing lane in Brewer-esque fashion. But those plays did not offset his positive contributions that kept the game close. He played a nice game.
Wes Johnson: The former Wolves lottery pick poured in 19 points and looked about as good as he’s capable of looking. But he missed a critical (wide-open) three down the stretch on a kick-out from Bryant. Kobe was not amused. Classic Wes.
Much more could be said, but that’s all for now. The Wolves have a tough stretch of games coming up, and last night’s win was a big morale boost and a lot of fun for fans.