After an uninspired, disjointed first half that seemed devoid of any passion or commitment and saw the Wolves down seven headed to the locker room, they dominated the second half and pulled away for a 113-96 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
Following last night’s deflating loss in Denver, their second in a row against fellow playoff contenders, the Wolves seemed to be reeling, and this game, while not do-or-die for making the playoffs, felt like it might be their last stand. But the team came out without a ton of spark, and stayed in it mostly thanks to poor play by the Lakers early (with the exception of Brook Lopez, who scored their first 15 points.)
Things took a turn for the worse, as they often do, when Tom Thibodeau went with a three guard lineup (First Tyus Jones, Derrick Rose, and Jamal Crawford, with Jeff Teague eventually replacing Jones) for the first six minutes of the second quarter. That group turned a four point lead into a three point deficit in their six minutes, which was not helped by Karl-Anthony Towns picking up his third foul and being forced to the bench.
Among the many mysteries that comprise Thibs’ coaching, trying to shoehorn Derrick Rose into the rotation in the last handful of games of the season, when there is no natural spot for him, is one of the biggest. It. Does. Not. Work.
At any rate, things only got worse from there, and the Wolves were down double-digits before Jeff Teague made a couple to end the half at 58-51.
The Wolves seemed to realize that they were the team in the building desperately in need of a win in the second half, and they brought a lot more energy to the proceedings. They quickly erased the Lakers lead and built their own, much thanks to Jimmy Butler, whose return was the big story tonight.
Butler, after missing six weeks with a meniscus injury, played tonight, and while he looked rusty in the first half, found himself in the second. He was especially impressive on defense, leading a second half charge that saw the Wolves hold the Lakers to 38 points. His four steals in 23 minutes were representative of his impact. He also found some offensive rhythm, finishing with 18 points on 7-10 shooting. His dunk off a Tyus Jones alley-oop pass in the third quarter was a beautiful thing to see:
Of further importance, Thibs did not make the same mistake in the second half as he did in the first. With the Wolves leading by seven entering the final frame, he went with a Jones-Crawford-Butler-Nemanja Bjelica-Towns lineup instead of forcing Rose in there. That group absolutely blew the doors off the Lakers, pushing the lead to as many as 20 points before Butler sat down for the night and the Wolves let off the gas.
This was a much needed win, and now they will watch their competitors over the weekend before their next game at home against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, followed by the last game of the season against the Nuggets, which will almost certainly mean something important.
- As noted Towns was in foul trouble early and never really got going, though he finished with another double-double.
- Jeff Teague was the scoring star tonight with 25, though the whole starting lineup was in double-figures. He shot it well (9-16) and didn’t turn the ball over.
- Andrew Wiggins again struggled shooting it (and took some awful ones) but was part of the renewed second half defensive effort and did finish with eight boards and five dimes. I thought he looked completely lost in the first half, but participated in the second.
- Turnovers were a huge factor in the game, with the Lakers coughing it up 20 times to the Wolves only five.
Have a great night.