After slightly turning his head, Lakers forward Julius Randle saw an imposing figure that remains consumed with physically and verbally taunting his opponents. That man also represents one of Randle’s childhood idols.
It was Kevin Garnett.
But instead of the second-year player cowering under Garnett’s intimidation, Randle did something else. Randle confronted the Minnesota Timberwolves forward and chirped back. Garnett was then soon called for a technical foul. Randle maintained Garnett is “laughing more” because of the Lakers’ 112-111 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday at Staples Center than their exchange with 3:14 left in the second quarter. But Randle could also express amusement about Garnett’s tough tactics, namely because they didn’t work.
“I’m not scared of anybody,” said Randle, who posted 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes. “The main thing is we know that’s his thing. That’s what he does, try to get in people’s heads. I’ve been watching him my whole life so I knew what to expect.”
But did Garnett know what to expect from Randle? Less than two minutes after Garnett picked up a technical, Randle was about to inbound the ball before noticing that Garnett looked the other way. So, the 20-year-old Randle bounced the ball off the back of the 39-year-old Garnett and basically passed the ball to himself.
“It was good to go up against him,” said Randle, who only has performed the inbound stunt in practice. “I always have confidence in my game. I don’t care who it is.”
Instead, Randle cared more about other things.
He expressed repeated frustration about the Lakers (0-1) losing their season opener to Minnesota (1-0). They coughed up a 16-point lead. They shot 5-of-26 in the fourth quarter. And Randle argued the Lakers had lost their “edge” partly because they failed to consistently communicate.
“These are the games we can’t lose,” Randle said. “We fight for a playoff spot. These are the games we have to have.”
Randle then downplayed Lakers coach Byron Scott making a few play calls that seemed surprising. Despite Randle having the ball with an open look at the top of the key, Scott called a timeout with 4.4 seconds remaining. Instead of drawing up a play for Kobe Bryant, Scott had Bryant inbound the ball to Lou Williams. He than attempted a floater over Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns that hit off the back of the rim as time expired.
“We ended up getting a great shot for the last play,” Randle said. “It didn’t work out for us. But we shouldn’t have even been in that position in the first place.”
Randle then faulted himself for shooting 1-of-6 in the first half, arguing that he was “rushing shots that I normally make.” But by the end, Randle displayed his crafty playmaking and power. He made five of six free throws. And unlike when he played only 14 minutes in last year’s season opener before suffering a season-ending right leg injury, Randle finished the game.
“It was great. Obviously it was a completely different outcome than last year,” Randle said. “Hopefully I can keep the health. But I wish I would have gotten the W.”
But for now, Randle arguably got the ‘W’ in his matchup with Garnett, who failed to rattle his opponent as he has often done in the past.
“It’s KG,” Randle said. “I liked that, though. It gets me going.”