LOS ANGELES — It couldn’t be easy. It couldn’t be pretty. Not in this Lakers season, it wouldn’t have fit.
Like the team that started the season 2-10, the Lakers started the 7-8 play-in game lethargic and falling behind by as many as 15. The defense that had been so sharp since the All-Star break looked like it took the night off. However, if the Lakers have been anything this season, they have been resilient.
“When we went 2-10, the analytics I saw said that we had a 0.3 chance of making the postseason. All you ask for is the chance, I guess,” LeBron James said postgame. “For us to turn around our season and give ourselves an opportunity to compete for the Larry O’Brien trophy that’s all you can ask for.”
30 FOR THE KING.
LAKERS WIN TO GET IN.@KingJames powers the Lakers into the #NBAPlayoffs presented by Google Pixel! pic.twitter.com/6Hw35GM3qf
— NBA (@NBA) April 12, 2023
The Lakers have that chance starting Sunday in Memphis.
That’s because on Tuesday night they came back in what, by the end, was a sloppy, tired slog of a game filled with missed shots, bad turnovers and mental mistakes by both teams — and particularly their stars. The Lakers just had fewer of them, hit a few more shots, and beat the Timberwolves in overtime 108-102.
With the win, the Lakers are officially the No.7 seed in the West, advancing to take on Ja Morant and the No.2 seed Grizzlies. Game one of that series is Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern.
Minnesota flies home tired and banged up — Anthony Edwards missed a stretch of the game with what appeared to be shoulder and thumb issues after a hard fall — and on Friday night will face the winner of the Thunder at Pelicans game.
Karl-Anthony Towns was the best player on the court in this game for three quarters (he finished with 24 points on 8-of-12 shooting) and when he was on the court in those 36 minutes, the Timberwolves were in control. For example, Towns was +13 in the first quarter alone.
Just like this game fit the Lakers, it fit the Timberwolves. All season long, through the drama and injuries, the Timberwolves played their best basketball when their backs were against the wall. They did it again on Tuesday.
“We’ve got fighters,” coach Chris Finch said with a laugh pregame. He played the punches that had Rudy Gobert (suspended) and Jaden McDaniels (fractured hand) for laughs, but he meant it. Minnesota led 60-49 at the half and had shown real grit.
Minnesota kept a small but comfortable lead into the third quarter, until Towns picked up his fourth foul and had to go to the bench. Suddenly, the Lakers went on a 7-0 run and it was a ballgame.
The end of the game was filled with a mix of dramatic and sloppy plays. Minnesota was clearly gassed, leading to turnovers and shots hitting the front of the rim. Anthony Edwards (3-of-17 on the night), was battling shoulder and thumb injuries (and spent a chunk of the third quarter in the locker room getting re-taped), he was not the player the Timberwolves needed him to be. The Lakers kept turning the ball over, including a bad pass from LeBron in overtime, and a terrible inbound by Austin Reaves. It was not the kind of game that struck fear into the hearts of Memphis or Denver.
But there was drama.
The Dennis Schroder 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left looked like the game-winner for the Lakers in regulation (Schroder had a strong game and finished with 21 points off the bench).
Dennis Schroder thought he hit the game-winner for the Lakers (instead OT was coming) pic.twitter.com/92Z5Zbh2A9
— Kurt Helin (@basketballtalk) April 12, 2023
Then Anthony Davis fouled Mike Conley‘s game-tying attempt — it was a borderline foul but Davis can’t put himself in a position where the ref can make that call — and the game was headed to overtime after three free throws.
WHAT AN ENDING 😱
OT IN LA 🍿 pic.twitter.com/tkjG0OsoA4
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 12, 2023
The Lakers scored the first five points in overtime and held on to win. Despite the struggles in this game, the confidence is still there with LeBron and the Lakers.
“That’s the only reason I play, still, is to try to put myself in position to make championship runs…” LeBron said. “You know it has not changed for me over the last, I will say since about 2006-07. That’s just been my mindset every year on how can I make a championship run…
“I’ve been on a lot of championship runs where for a while and I want to continue that and hopefully, you know this year is another one of those instances.”