Kobe Clutch in Last-Minute Victory
A decade after watching Kobe Bryant drop 81 points on his former team — and just minutes after the Lakers legend exploded for a season-high 38 against his current one — an exasperated Sam Mitchell had little to say his relentless foe.
“I hate him,” said Mitchell, who was Toronto’s head coach in 2006 and is now the interim coach for Minnesota.
“If I don’t ever see him again, it won’t be too soon,” he added. “I hate him.”
Meanwhile, Bryant — who had just led the Lakers to a 119-115 victory — seemed surprised and amused by Mitchell’s response.
“Thank you for the hate,” Bryant said, smiling. “I appreciate that. Truly, I love that.”
The 20-year veteran poured in 14 points during the game’s final six minutes, while hitting seven 3-pointers on the night — his most in the last eight seasons.
“You’ve seen it for 20 damn years,” Bryant laughed. “What are you impressed by? Tonight I made shots I was supposed to make. I had open looks and I made them.”
However, Bryant’s performance seemed like more than that to friend and foe alike.
Julius Randle called his night “pretty unbelievable,” while Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio said competing with Bryant is something he’ll someday tell his grandkids of.
But few found as much meaning in the display as the man who was Bryant’s teammate for his rookie year two decades ago.
“His body can’t do it like he used to, but his mind is still sharp as a tack,” head coach Byron Scott said. “He still has the will, and I kind of marvel at that. So every game that he plays, I appreciate the fact that, for two more months, I get a chance to see this.
“I appreciate it probably more than anybody because I’ve known him longer than anybody on this team.”
The Lakers’ 16-point lead had crumbled largely with Bryant on the bench, as Minnesota took a one-point edge with 5:15 remaining. From there, Bryant summoned the late-game magic that has been at the center of his legacy in Los Angeles.
He came off a screen to knock down a lead-stealing 3-pointer, and then returned on the very next possession and splashed yet another triple.
When the Timberwolves threatened for the final time by trimming the Lakers’ lead to one 111-110 with 46.2 seconds remaining, Bryant — the “Black Mamba” — struck once more with a 20-foot jumper and six free throws the rest of the way.
“It was just another Mamba moment to add to the collection,” D’Angelo Russell said. “It should be a museum of just Mamba moments.”
Vintage Vino https://t.co/OiEms1Belk— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) February 3, 2016
Bryant’s outburst saved the Lakers (10-41) from setting a new franchise record of 11 consecutive losses.
He shot 10-of-21 from the field and 11-of-12 on free throws to combat Minnesota’s offensive eruption, which was led by Andrew Wiggins, who had 30 points (13-of-20).
The Timberwolves (14-36) raced out to an early 20-12 lead, but L.A. managed to come out of the first quarter ahead by one. The purple and gold took its largest lead in the final seconds of in the second quarter, 66-50. Though Minnesota added a basket before intermission, the Lakers still recorded their largest halftime total of the year.
The Wolves traded blows with L.A. in the third, but then rolled off a 21-9 run to capture their brief fourth-quarter lead.
From there, Bryant put on a show.
“There’s no situation that you can put him in where he’s every gonna panic,” Scott said. “He’s just gonna see what they give him, and he’s gonna take advantage of it.”
The Wolves shot 57.5 percent from the field, scored 64 points in the paint and handed out a season-high 36 assists — 15 of which came from Rubio.
But they were done in at the 3-point line, where Bryant’s 7-of-11 clip bested their combined 4-of-17 mark.
“He’s the greatest of my generation,” the 20-year-old Wiggins said. “He perfected the game of basketball.”
In his final game against Minnesota, Bryant was aided by a handful of first- and second-year teammates. Lou Williams (20 points), D’Angelo Russell (18), Jordan Clarkson (16) and Julius Randle (15 points, 12 rebounds) all helped the 37-year-old outgun the visitors.
But the eyes of the 18,997 who sold out Staples Center were clearly locked in on Bryant.
“Some of the shots, it’s just like: How do you make it?” Randle said.
Bryant also had five rebounds and a team-high five assists. … Kevin Martin, Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic were all out for Minnesota. … The Timberwolves shot 13-of-19 in the fourth quarter. … Russell scored 11 points during L.A.’s second-quarter surge.