The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves Sunday night, 110-109, in an exciting contest that was decided on the last play of the game. As time expired, D’Angelo Russell received a pass from Julius Randle and shot immediately from three-point range, with the ball bouncing high of the rim before settling through the net.
For the Lakers, they are now on a four game winning streak for the first time this season. It took every ounce of effort the Lakers could muster to withstand an onslaught from the Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins, who finished with 41 points, and Karl Anthony Towns who had 40 points and 21 rebounds.
The Phoenix Suns won their second consecutive game earlier in the day but the Lakers players were not thinking about summer or the lottery, they were fighting for another victory. The Lakers were led in scoring by Tyler Ennis with 20 points and Jordan Clarkson who finished with 17.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. Larry Nance, Jr. Was An Unsung Hero
Russell will get the credit for making the game winning shot, but if not for Larry Nance, Jr., Russell would not have been in that position as Nance led the Lakers in rebounds and assists and made a number of key plays down the stretch.
The Timberwolves were unstoppable late in the game with Wiggins and Towns alternating making shots almost at will. With Minnesota clinging to a two point lead, and with possession of the ball as time was running out, one more basket would have sealed the defeat for the Lakers. As Ricky Rubio drove to the rim to score, Nance rotated in his direction, blocked the shot, and the Lakers controlled the ball leading to Russell’s game winning heroics.
A minute before, Nance had two offensive rebounds in the same sequence which led to a basket by Clarkson to keep the game in reach. For the night, Nance had a double-double, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. He also had six assists, two blocks, and a steal.
It often goes unnoticed, but the Lakers almost always play better with Nance on the floor, and he has really hit his stride since joining the starting line-up.
2. D’Angelo Russell Struggled But Hit The Key Shot When It Counted
On the night, Russell scored 16 points but made only 6-19 shots. He also had only four assists and struggled with five turnovers, although he did collect three steals. All things considered, it was the kind of performance Russell has given many times this season, but with one key difference: In this contest, with time running out, he hit the game winning three-point shot.
Russell revealed after the game that his grandmother had passed away that morning and he almost did not play. Earlier in the season, when his shot was not falling, Russell would stop playing hard and essentially disappear.
In recent weeks, however, his erratic shooting has not slowed him down as much, and he has kept battling like he did Sunday night. Perhaps Russell is finally showing some of the maturity that is needed to be a team leader.
3. Tyler Ennis Continues to Excel
For the second time in three games, Tyler Ennis set a career high in scoring, this time with 20 points. If the last month has any meaning to the Lakers’ front office, Ennis may have earned himself a spot on next year’s roster. He plays good defense and runs the offense smoothly, as shown by the fact that he had five assists and again had no turnovers.
It is unclear what Ennis has been doing since he joined the league in 2014, as he has bounced around from team to team and this season was averaging only 1.9 points per game for the Houston Rockets. He has gotten solid playing time with the Lakers over the past month and he has certainly not wasted the opportunity.
For those fans who wanted the Lakers to tank, Ennis is public enemy number one as he has probably been the team’s most consistent player the last couple of weeks.