Bryant's Late Free Throws Sink Wolves, 105-102

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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For most of Friday’s 105-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Timberwolves were in control. They had endured the news just before tipoff that forward Kevin Love would not be playing due to back spasms, they build a 14-point first half lead and they used double-digit scoring from six players to grab a 102-101 lead with 16.4 seconds to play.

But with one cut by guard Kobe Bryant, everything changed.

Bryant collided with Wolves guard Ricky Rubio, drawing a foul that not only sent him to the line but Rubio to the floor. The Timberwolves’ rookie left the game with a left knee injury and did not return, while Bryant stepped to the line, hit both free-throws and gave L.A. the lead for good.

The loss was Minnesota’s first at Target Center since Feb. 11 against New York.

It was a difficult end for the Wolves and the 20,164 on hand for Friday’s White Out game at Target Center, but the banged up Minnesota squad took something away from the defeat.

“Character,” forward Michael Beasley said. “We could have let it slip away in the third quarter when they started to make that run, but we hung in there.”

Saturday’s home contest against the New Orleans Hornets is now filled with questions about the Wolves’ injury report, as Love and Rubio were not available after Friday’s loss. Rubio’s injury is listed as a left knee injury and will be evaluated on Saturday, while Love will monitor his back spasms. Guard JJ Barea sat our Friday with a sprained left ankle.

Still, the Wolves got off to a fast start against Los Angeles (24-16) thanks to big nights from several contributors on the floor. It began with forward Derrick Williams, who said he found out 10 minutes before gametime that he would be starting in place of Love. He scored 12 of his 22 points in the first quarter and helped Minnesota build an early lead.

“With K-Love out it really does hurt, but we really competed out there tonight,” Williams said.

Center Nikola Pekovic joined in. Pekovic, who missed the past two games with a sore right foot, was bruising against Lakers center Andrew Bynum all night. He was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the first quarter, finished with a team-high 25 points and scored on a put back tip-in with 16.4 remaining in the game to give Minnesota a 102-101 advantage.

Pekovic finished with 13 boards on a night in which the Wolves (21-20) were outrebounded 45-34 without Love.

“Pek is just scary big, scary strong,” Beasley said. “There’s not too many people who can bang with (Bynum).”

Beasley and Rubio each finished with 15 points each, while Rubio also notched 10 assists for his first double-double since Feb. 4 against Houston. Wes Johnson added 11 points and Luke Ridnour finished with 10—including a 3-pointer with 1:33 left to give the Wolves a 100-99 lead.

But with the game on the line, Bryant made his move. He had eight of his 34 points in the fourth, including four free-throws in the final 16 seconds to end the game.

“When you play that team and you get down to the end you have a little bit of a disadvantage, because they have the name power and they have the experience,” coach Rick Adelman said.

Bynum finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds, Pau Gasol had 12 points and 11 boards and Metta World Peace had nine points. Matt Barnes had eight points off the bench.

The Wolves look to rebound on Saturday against the Hornets and build off Friday’s game. Despite the loss, Johnson said the team showed the ability to handle adversity and fight until the end.

“I think everyone contributed,” Johnson said. “It showed a lot about our team that everyone stepped up and picked up the slack.”

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