The night began with many in the crowd of 18,076 at Target Center cheering for Kobe Bryant. It ended with Bryant, on the bench, cheering in vain for his young Los Angeles Lakers teammates.
One chapter ended on a night when so much of the NBA’s future shined.
Wednesday was the last time Bryant, a star for two decades, would play on Minnesota soil. That’s why there were so many Lakers jerseys in the stands, why one young fellow was seen with a likeness of Bryant carved into the hair on the back of his head. Why late, as the Lakers were rallying to force overtime, the crowd chanted “We want Kobe.”
In the end they cheered a Wolves victory after Minnesota outlasted the Lakers 123-122 in overtime thanks to monster nights from Kevin Martin (37 points) and rookie Karl-Anthony Towns (26 points, 14 rebounds).
“We’ll take ’em any kind of way we can get ’em,” said Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell after the Wolves (9-12) ended a four-game losing streak.
They took this one the hard way. With the Wolves up 112-107 with 1 minute, 41 seconds left in regulation, Lakers rookie guard D’Angelo Russell — who was taken second in last summer’s NBA draft after Towns — scored seven points down the stretch, including an off-balance basket in the lane with 2.2 seconds left to force OT. With the Wolves up one with 9.4 seconds left in OT, Russell and then Roy Hibbert missed shots as the clock expired.
On a night when Bryant was set to be feted, the game provided all the drama. Indeed, with Russell scoring 13 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, Bryant told Lakers coach Byron Scott to leave him on the bench.
“They were playing well,” Bryant said. “With great energy. Just let ’em go.”
But Bryant still dominated much of the day. He met Bob Williams, the first black to play for the Minneapolis Lakers, before the game. Fans cheered during his introduction, which came accompanied by a highlight reel. Before the opening tip, Bryant and Kevin Garnett shared a hug.
Bryant made his first three shots, including a three-pointer. But he made only two of his next 10, and he remained on the bench as the crowd chanted for his return.
“I’m extremely appreciative of that,” he said. “It means I must have done something right over these 20 years.”
There might have been more drama than needed. The Lakers (3-19) came in as the league’s worst-shooting team and proceeded to shot 51.6 percent. The Wolves struggled to get stops all evening.
And so did the Lakers.
Martin, who struggled through a November slump, was wonderful. He scored 17 fourth-quarter points, another three in OT. But he also hurt his right wrist early in the game — the same wrist he hurt early in a 37-point game against New York last season. Martin had surgery and was out more than two months last season. He will have the wrist examined Thursday morning.
But on a night when Garnett and Bryant played against each other for the last time at Target Center, it was about the kids. Towns scored 26, Shabazz Muhammad 15 and Andrew Wiggins 19. For the Lakers, Russell and Julius Randle combined for 43.
“It’s a great thing to see that we’re taking up from the people before us, trying to play at a high level,” Towns said.
As for Bryant? Talking about playing against Garnett — who entered the league one year before he did — he sounded wistful.
“It seems like yesterday we were the young ones,” Bryant said. “It’s just crazy to me, lining up with KG after all these years. It’s nuts. Where did the time go?”