One. Last. Time.
In their 20th NBA season playing against each other, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett faced off for the final time at Target Center. The crowd showed up in a big way to see the Black Mamba's last trip to Minnesota, and the evening delivered a nail-biting overtime win. Fortunately, Minnesota ended up on the positive end of the 123-122 final score. Kevin Martin led the Wolves with 37 points, followed by Karl-Anthony Towns with 26 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots.
"Amazing. That's vintage Kevin Martin," Towns said of his teammate's performance.
"It felt good," Martin said. "We were moving the ball around tonight and we were just taking what the defense was giving us. Ricky was running the show, he was calling a lot of plays for me, so that makes it easy. It was just fun to get a 'W.'"
The game was a battle of offenses and also a battle of the young guys. Although Bryant and Garnett started the game together, it seemed almost symbolic that the bulk of the game came at the hands of the up-and-comers.
"It was great for both [Kevin and me]" Bryant said. "It seems like yesterday we were the young ones, you know what I mean? It's crazy to me lining up with KG after all these years. It's nuts. Where did time go?"
For most of the first half, both squads shot around 60 percent from the floor. Coming into Wednesday's game, the Lakers were shooting just 40.8 percent, but an almost non-existent Wolves defense allowed them to hang around and make shots all evening.
After exchanging leads eight times throughout the night and playing through overtime, it was finally a stop by Minnesota that snapped a four-game losing streak for the home team.
"The first team to play defense tonight was going to be the first team to win," Martin said postgame. He laughed, then added, "I'm sure the coaches are still looking for that first team to play defense."
Martin started out hot for the Wolves, tallying a quick seven points. He appeared to tweak his wrist early on but stayed on the floor and never slowed down—eerily similar to his 37-point night last season when he later found out the wrist was broken.
"I didn't check on him, because he was making shots," said head coach Sam Mitchell after the game, smiling. "The last thing I was going to do was ask him if he was okay. He was going to have to find me."
Martin said he will get the wrist checked out Thursday morning.
Towns also made an impact early, playing aggressively and finding shots all over the floor. The rookie matched Martin's nine points to help Minnesota keep the lead for most of the quarter.
The Lakers held the advantage for a handful of seconds, but Shabazz Muhammad got on the board and answered with a three-point bucket to steal it back. The forward continued to be effective off the bench, going 6/6 and scoring 13 points in just seven minutes on the floor.
Muhammad's energy further sparked Towns, who peaked in the second and third quarters.
It was lucky for the Wolves that their shooting went so well, as several other things did not. Minnesota played minimal defense, and the team allowed 21 Lakers points off 15 turnovers.
The second half held ups and downs for Minnesota, and D'Angelo Russell proved a scoring threat for the Lakers. The rookie had a breakout game, finishing with 23 points, including three from beyond the arc. The Wolves hung in there, though, and capitalized during overtime to come away with the win, albeit barely.
"I didn't realize [Russell] had that many points until I looked up," Towns said. "It's amazing to see the league, see how much young talent is present. This is a great thing to see that we're taking up from the people before us and trying to play at a high level."
Minnesota has historically struggled to close games, and Wednesday's victory certainly proved a valuable experience for the Wolves, especially the young guys. Following the game, Bryant spoke highly of the team Minnesota is building:
"I think they're doing great. I think they have a great nucleus of young players; all their young players are very hard workers. They've done nothing but improve—Wiggins has improved tremendously since the last time I played against him [...]. Towns seems to be extremely more physical now from even the first game we played against him. He just seems to be more comfortable. LaVine has a great amount of potential, too. This city has a great core."
Wednesday's win improved the Wolves record to 9-12. They will have a day off before consecutive road games against Denver (Friday) and Phoenix (Saturday). Friday's game will tip off at 8 pm CST.
- The Target Center crowd offered Kobe Bryant a standing ovation during an in-arena video tribute prior to the game. In his last game in Minnesota, the All-Star finished with 11 points. Over his career, Bryant played 32 games at Target Center and averaged 23.8 ppg on 42.8 percent shooting.
- A "We Want Kobe" cheer broke out a couple of times during the fourth quarter. (I'll never get used to that).
- Arguably the loudest cheers of the night came when Julius Randle missed a pair of free throws in the third quarter, meaning that all fans received free Cherry Berry frozen yogurt as an in-arena promotion.