PORTLAND, ORE. – You’ve only known Timberwolves rookie Zach LaVine for a mere 14 NBA games, but say this about him: The dude, as he might say, has a sense of timing.
He waited a month to deliver what just might have been some kind of epiphany, a 28-point performance on 11-for-14 shooting in Friday’s 120-119 comeback victory over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in Los Angeles.
It didn’t come in Orlando or Memphis. Rather, it arrived on the brightly lit stage at Staples Center before a festive Friday night crowd that included glitterati both new (Australian rapper Iggy Azalea) and old (tattooed rock bassist Flea and actress Dyan Cannon) as well as 15 friends and family members.
It arrived just down the freeway from where he played one collegiate season at UCLA, against the team and the superstar he has admired for most of his 19 years.
Friday’s game was the first Lakers game at Staples Center he ever attended.
“I always want to come back and put on a show,” he said afterward. “I knew a lot of UCLA fans would be here. I know a lot of UCLA fans are mad I came out [early for the NBA draft]. I’m a confident person. I like to prove people wrong.”
LaVine made nine of his first 10 shots for 18 points in the second quarter alone, which beat his previous career high of 13 points in a game.
LaVine described the transformation in organic terms, using such words as “flow” and “rhythm” to explain a stretch when he made jumpers from all directions and even provided a steal and slam when his own team had the ball. He leapt high to snatch a ball intended for a teammate in the far corner and jammed it down.
“Second quarter I had a couple pull-ups and it just felt good,” he said. “The shot just felt good. About time, man, but I’m going to keep shooting, though, even if I was missing it.”
Whether it turned some sort of switch remains to be seen, starting with Sunday’s game in Portland.
Wolves coach Flip Saunders remembers a career-altering one that Kevin Garnett produced nearly 20 years and is hopeful rookie Andrew Wiggins’ 29-point game against Sacramento a week ago foreshadows what will come.
Same thing with LaVine’s game Friday.
“Zach was fabulous,” Saunders said. “In the first half, he showed a little bit what he’s going to do this league.”
LaVine wasn’t alone.
Veteran Mo Williams rose from his sick bed and delivered a 25-point, 11-assist night that included six three-point shots, two of them consecutively in a closing 13-4 run. Saunders called plays for Thaddeus Young that got him going after halftime, when he scored 15 of his 22 points after he had made two of 15 shots in his first six quarters back following his mother’s death.
Corey Brewer contributed 13 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, and Gorgui Dieng supplied six of his eight assists and six of his seven rebounds in that final quarter.
“I mean, all the guys,” Saunders said. “You can go right down the list.”
But at the top of that list is LaVine’s night, both because of what it meant Friday and what it might mean for the franchise’s future.
“It was a great night for him, he should love it,” Williams said. “Love it and forget about it because Sunday is a different ballgame.”
When asked if it could have been one of those transformative games for a rookie, Saunders said: “I would think so. You know, I’ve been riding Zach hard, no question. I told him, ‘That’s how I coach my point guards, but you’re eventually going to learn and once it kicks in, you’re going to start flourishing.’ Tonight, he flourished. Let’s hope he can bounce back and do the same thing [Sunday at Portland].”
Sunday’s game won’t have the same vibe that Friday’s did. LaVine wears No. 8 because Bryant — his favorite player as a kid — once wore it.
LaVine outscored Bryant 28-26, but Bryant tied the score in the final five seconds and had the chance to win it before his long jumper at the buzzer missed.
“I’m really, really surprised he missed that shot,” LaVine said. “That scared me at the end. … It was crazy, man. I caught myself watching him a couple times, like, ‘Dang, that’s Kobe, that’s a dude I’ve been watching my whole life.’ ”