Well before Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett darted his piercing eyes and directed his loud mouth at Lakers second-year forward Julius Randle, Kobe Bryant already knew it was coming.
“I know KG,” said Bryant, who remembers battling against Garnett his entire career including the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals. “He loves testing young guys just to see what they’re made of.”
It turns out that Randle is made of a lot in the Lakers’ 112-111 season-opening loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday at Staples Center. Randle refused to shy away from Garnett. Randle talked back. Shortly after Garnett picked up a technical foul with 3:14 left in the second quarter, Randle inbounded the ball off of Garnett’s back without the 21-year-old NBA veteran looking.
“He responded like Julius Randle. He responded like a grown ass man. KG has a lot of respect for him because of it,” Bryant said. “He’s laying the foundation. He wants to build his reputation around the the league. He’s certainly doing that. He’s not intimidated by anybody.”
Randle posted 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes, numbers that inevitably became career-highs since he lasted only 14 minutes his rookie season last season before fracturing his right tibia and needing season-ending surgery. Garnett may have rattled the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah in past seasons. But not Randle.
“Julius ain’t backing down from nobody, so I wasn’t surprised,” Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson said. “They got into their talking battle. I knew Julius wouldn’t back down. He got that dog in him.”
Lakers coach Byron Scott noted that Randle “has to learn to temper it down at times” and that “KG did a good job of baiting him into a couple of things.” But Randle has shown that aggressiveness in other ways. He has bullied opponents inside using his 6-foot-9, 250-pound frame. Randle attacked the rim several times in two exhibitions against Warriors forward Draymond Green. Randle also engaged in physical one-on-one matchups during the offseason with Lakers forward Metta World Peace.
“I do like the fact that Julius doesn’t back down. “He’ll keep that aggressive attitude on both ends of the floor,” Scott said. “All these guys get a reputation the first couple of years. Hopefully he’ll be one of the guys that’s fearless, tough, competitive, physical type guys.”
But apparently Randle still has room to grow in that area.
“Julious is tough. Garnett is tough. You don’t expect either one to back down until the refs get involved,” Lakers rookie guard D’Angelo Russell said. “But I guess Garnett won the battle because they won the game.”