LOS ANGELES – Ricky Rubio had a career-high 28 points and 14 assists and the Minnesota Timberwolves rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 112-111 Wednesday night in their first game since Flip Saunders’ death.
Kevin Martin scored 23 points. The Timberwolves played with heavy hearts three days after they lost Saunders, the longtime coach and team president who battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Minnesota led 111-102 with 2:11 left, but the Lakers finished on a 9-1 run. Lou Williams hit a 3-pointer with 31 seconds left to trim Minnesota’s lead to one point. Martin missed a jumper before Williams missed a leaning 4-footer at the buzzer.
Kobe Bryant scored 24 points in the first game of his 20th season with the Lakers, breaking John Stockton’s NBA record for the most seasons with one team.
Bryant largely appeared to be his usual spry and aggressive self in his first game since January after his third straight season ended early due to injury, but he missed his final eight shots down the stretch as Minnesota rallied.
No. 1 draft choice Karl-Anthony Towns had 14 points and 12 rebounds in his NBA debut for Minnesota, and No. 2 pick D’Angelo Russell had four points and three turnovers in his own debut for the Lakers.
Saunders’ recent death and a pregame moment of silence put both teams in a sombre mood in their season opener. Both wore warmup shirts honouring the coach. The Timberwolves’ shirts bore the slogan “WE,” while the Lakers’ said “FLIP.”
Kevin Garnett had four points and seven rebounds to begin his 21st NBA season, becoming just the third player in league history to last that long.
Extremes of youth and experience met at Staples Center: The top two picks faced off in their regular-season debuts for the first time in the 50-year common draft era, while two players with at least 20 seasons of experience faced each other for the first time in NBA history.
Both Garnett and Bryant played alongside their current coaches, Sam Mitchell and Byron Scott.
Julius Randle returned to the Lakers’ lineup with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Last summer’s No. 7 pick broke his leg in last year’s opener and missed the rest of the season.
Williams scored 21 points in his first game with Los Angeles. The Lakers returned from the worst season in franchise history with a taste of their potential, but more disappointment. Nick Young had 14 points, including a 3-pointer from 41 feet to beat the first-quarter buzzer.
Timberwolves: Mitchell, who took over in Saunders’ absence, coached his first game for Minnesota. “It’s been a tough last couple of days, but the guys, they get a safe haven playing basketball,” he said. … NBA Commissioner Adam Silver attended the game and addressed the Timberwolves in their locker room beforehand.
Lakers: Roy Hibbert had 12 points and 10 rebounds in his debut, making all 10 of his free throws.