LOS ANGELES – There are things they call team victories, and then there is the Timberwolves’ 120-119 comeback victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers certainly aren’t what they once were, but Friday nights at Staples Center remain as much theatre as anything. This time, the Wolves took the illuminated stage and rallied from eight points behind with five minutes left to prevail on a night that began as a contest of three-win teams and ended with one team finally, exhaustively outscoring the other.
“It was like a game and a half,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said afterward. “It was like old-time basketball there, ABA.”
When it was over, the Wolves prevailed, thanks to veteran forward Thad Young’s one free throw made with 2.8 seconds left, the final margin of victory.
When it was over, Wolves rookie Zach LaVine had returned to Los Angeles — where he played one collegiate season at UCLA — and made his own the first Lakers game he ever attended after years of worshipping them and superstar Kobe Bryant.
LaVine scored 18 of his 28 points — more than double his previous career high of 13 — in the second quarter alone before at least 15 family members and friends. He made 11 of 14 shots from the field in a performance that was aggressive without being too much so.
“I don’t know, man, it just came in the flow of the game,” LaVine said. “It felt good. The shot just felt good today, about time. I’m just going to keep shooting, though.”
All of his 28 points came in the first three quarters before veterans Young, Mo Williams and Corey Brewer as well as second-year center Gorgui Dieng carried the Wolves home.
Young wiped away Wednesday’s 1-for-10 shooting night in his first game back after nearly two weeks away from the team and produced a second half that proved what Saunders said about him hours earlier, that Saunders had no reason to worry about such a veteran.
Young scored 15 of his 22 points after halftime — 12 of them in a third quarter when Saunders vowed to get him going after a 1-for-5 shooting start — and provided the game-winning points when he made one of two free throws with 2.8 seconds left.
“I just tried to go out there and continue to play, try to get back in the groove,” said Young, who missed five games following his mother’s death from cancer. “My teammates have been helping me, my coaches have been helping me, everyone just trying to gather around and help me get back into the swing of things. It’s a good feeling having those guys behind me, because it makes me play hard and do the things I need to do to help us win games.”
Trailing 115-107 with five minutes left, the Wolves scored eight unanswered points — six of them on consecutive three-pointers from Williams — - to tie the game with three minutes left.
Bryant twice tried to save a team that has won 16 NBA titles but just three times now in the season’s first month, giving the Lakers a brief two-point lead 2:44 left and tying the game with a jump shot with 5.6 seconds left.
But after Young made one of those two free throws, Bryant’s potential game-winner at the final buzzer missed.
“I was playing against my childhood idol and I’m really, really surprised he missed that shot,” LaVine said. “That scared me.”
That final missed shot allowed the Wolves to walk away winners, thanks to Young’s 22 points and Williams’ 30-minute, 25-point, 11-assist night while he played on with pink eyes and lingering strep throat even though he said before the game he didn’t know how long or how much he could play.
“It’s been a tough week for me,” said Williams, who said he hadn’t picked up a ball since Saturday. “I was kind of nervous. Before the game, I didn’t know what to expect. At times it felt like I had been out a week. But this is a no-excuse league. No one’s going to feel sorry for me. I couldn’t use it as an excuse so I just had to go out and play.”
It didn’t hurt that Brewer pursued a triple-double with 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, one game after he had a seven turnovers trying to fill in as backup point guard in a pinch.
Or that Dieng delivered six rebounds and six assists alone in the decisive fourth quarter, finding Williams for the first of his two consecutive three-pointers that brought the Wolves back. He finished with four points, eight assists and seven rebounds, including a big offensive rebound down the stretch.
“All the guys,” Saunders said. “You can go right down the list.”
Until Friday, LaVine’s scoring high was 13 points, in a game at New Orleans two weeks ago.
He had 18 points by halftime Friday and 28 after three quarters. He made nine of his first 10 shots and managed to record a steal and a slam dunk, all on a possession by his own team.
LaVine lept high and snatched a pass intended seemingly for a teammate in the far corner and slammed it down for his final points of the half. It was a performance that brought the Wolves back from an 11-point, first-quarter deficit and they pulled within as little as a point before the Lakers pushed their lead back to 58-54 at intermission.
His 28 points approached the most ever scored by a Wolves’ teenager — Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett each scored 33 points as teens — and Christian Laettner’s 35-point Wolves’ rookie record.