Los Angeles — Sports are wild. For a little while, you live in that space where you don’t know what could happen. Where anything could happen. Your hopes and fears flood in side by side and it causes this chemical reaction; your limbs feel paralyzed, your mind is clouded but calm, and all you can do is watch and... scream.
It was a pretty important night for Lakers fans as the team played tug of war with the Timberwolves over seventh place in the West as playoff contenders.
A few hours ahead of the game, the loudest sounds that could be heard were the squeaking of sneakers against the hardwood and the bouncing of basketballs, there were soft sounds of several camera shutters too. That would shortly change as this Play-In game was completely sold out in Downtown Los Angeles.
Before the game, Lakers Head Coach Darvin Ham made the point, “When you have the opportunity in your own building to take care of business …you need to seize the opportunity.”
This is the highest stakes game this arena has seen, with a completely full house, since 2013 when the Lakers hosted the San Antonio Spurs and were defeated in Game 4.
The fans were ready and their role in all of this was not taken lightly.
As a man approached his seat in the three hundred level, he shouted to the section, “Let’s go Lakers! We gotta make the most noise up here!”
And it’s true— when you’re sitting down below, the cheers tremble through your body, in through your chest and out through your head. Up high, it’s more open and so the sound doesn’t hit you as hard, but even so, everyone in that arena is relying on you. You can’t feed off the energy; you are the energy.
From the first basket, made by Anthony Davis, the arena erupted.
And even with the ugly direction this game went at times, the fans didn’t let up.
The Wolves came into this game ranked 8th in points in the paint, the Lakers came in 6th. But a large factor in Minnesota’s dominance was Rudy Gobert, who was suspended after an altercation with his teammate, Kyle Anderson, in Sunday’s game. Without their big man, the Wolves looked elsewhere, and they found their solution along the arc.
Mike Conley and Taurean Prince were like assassins from the perimeter, they identified their target and hit nothing but the bottom of the net. Together Conley and Prince put up 30 points from three.
The Lakers didn’t play particularly well. They were almost irrelevant from the arc—almost. But their defense was sloppy, their mistakes, careless. Minnesota controlled almost the entire game—almost.
At halftime, even after a 9-0 Minnesota run, and a 60 to 49-point lead, the crowd didn’t disengage; the noise didn’t diminish.
A triple from LeBron James and then another from Austin Reaves riled everyone up from the floor to the rafters.
Heading into the fourth, the Lakers were still down 86-79, but nobody hung their heads. It only took another three, this time from Malik Beasley, to galvanize the crowd and for their roars to flood the floor.
The crowd noise converted into energy and stirred through the Lakers team. An Anthony Davis dunk brought Los Angeles within three, 95-92. The cheers were met with a standing ovation. LeBron acknowledged everyone’s involvement by draining a three and tying the game at 95.
Then, when Dennis Schröder made a corner three to put the team up 98-95 with 1.2 seconds left, the crowd cheered with conviction, like they knew it was over.
But with 0.1 on the clock, Minnesota’s sharp-shooter, Conley, was sent to the line after an AD foul as Conley was putting up a corner three.
As he approached the free-throw line, the crowd recognized their job wasn’t finished. The collective “Boos” could’ve crumbled the floor beneath Conley. If he paid them any mind, they could’ve swallowed him whole.
Conley made all three. 98-98. End of regulation.
The energy shifted in overtime. A total of nearly 18,997 “defense” chants incited Laker stops, and about 18,997 “Let’s go Lakers” chants prompted Laker baskets.
It was almost as if the noise drowned out any doubt among the crowd—among the players.
The guys went on a 10-4 run in overtime on their way to a 108-102 win over Minnesota, securing their official spot in the playoffs.
Round 1, Game 1 against the Grizzlies is in Memphis on Sunday, Game 2 on Wednesday is as well.
Where the sounds in Tennessee won’t be anything like Los Angeles, the noise from Tuesday’s game should carry.
And more than that, the anticipation of a home game on Saturday, with a fully packed crowd, who’s been harnessing this passion for almost 10 years definitely won’t be overlooked.