It was a showdown between the top two picks of the 2015 NBA draft, but it was Ricky Rubio who stole the show with a career night.
After being down by as many as 16 in the first half, Rubio propelled the young Minnesota Timberwolves over the Los Angeles Lakers behind a career-high 28 points on 10 of 17 shooting coupled with 14 assists.
Rubio, who has struggled with his jump shot over the years, came out early and displayed a refined jumper along with the ability to take it to the rim and finish strong.
Averaging 36.7 percent shooting throughout his four-year career, it was obvious Rubio spent the summer working on his shot. He has also been often criticized for his inability to attack the rim but showed aggression and confidence in this opening night game.
The Lakers maintained control of the game for the most part, before completely melting down in the fourth period. In fact, they shot 5 of 24 from the field in the final quarter and scored just 16 points as a team.
The first half was a different story for Los Angeles, as the bench unit ignited the team behind strong play from Nick Young and Lou Williams. After Young nailed a 40-foot three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first stanza, the Lakers seized the momentum and carried it until the beginning of the fourth.
The Lakers bench depth is going to be crucial for them this season, as Coach Byron Scott went 10 deep tonight. However, after the bench was fantastic in the first half, they were completely stale and ineffective in the second half.
Kobe Bryant, who has made his return from a severe shoulder injury, started the game off slowly but picked it up in the second quarter, piling on 11 points, including a long three-pointer and a couple of tough fade away jumpers.
But when it mattered most, Bryant was unable to produce, missing all five of his shots in the fourth period. He finished the contest with 24 points, four rebounds, and two steals on 8 of 24 shooting from the field and 3 of 13 shooting from long range.
It was Kevin Martin who initiated the Timberwolves comeback trail, scoring 23 points off the bench and 11 of 12 from the charity stripe, and Rubio who finished it off.
The rookie debut of Karl-Anthony Towns was a solid one, as he scored 14 points and grabbed 12 boards. Meanwhile, D’Angelo Russell merely had four points, three rebounds, and two assists and failed to see the floor in the fourth.
Late in the fourth, the Timberwolves grew a lead of nine with 2:13 remaining in the game, but the Lakers battled back to close the gap to one after a Williams three. With eight ticks left on the clock, Martin missed a 21-foot jumper on the other end, and the Lakers corralled possession but wasted four seconds before calling a timeout.
Out of the timeout, Williams was granted the basketball and 29-year old drove to the hoop only to miss a four-foot tear drop at the buzzer.
Williams and Young combined for 35 of the Lakers’ 42 bench points with 21 and 14 points, respectively, but it wasn’t enough. Julius Randle ended with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Jordan Clarkson notched 14 points and four rebounds.
The Lakers were shooting over 45 percent at the end of the third quarter but finished the game shooting under 38 percent. One bright spot for Los Angeles was rebounding, as they out-rebounded the Wolves, 51-39.
For Minnesota, last year’s Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, had a disappointing game, scoring just nine points on 2 of 10 shooting, but the team’s collective effort helped them grab this win.
It was an inspiring victory to start the season for the young Wolves, as they will look to carry their momentum into Denver Friday night for a showdown against the Nuggets. After a discouraging loss, the Lakers will look to bounce back against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, October 30.