Garnett won't let Timberwolves die

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2004

MINNEAPOLIS Kevin Garnett wiggled his leg and drummed his fingers. A few seconds into his only rest of the game, he leaped up to put himself back in.

With his season on the line, the league MVP had trouble sitting still and with Latrell Sprewell's help, he overcame the Lakers' famed finishing touch.

Garnett had 30 points and 19 rebounds, and the Minnesota Timberwolves avoided elimination from the Western Conference finals with a 98-96 victory over Los Angeles in Game 5 Saturday night.

''We don't consider this thing over,'' said Garnett after the Timberwolves trimmed the Lakers' series lead to 3-2. ''We know we're a good team. We're confident we can win. ... The biggest question in our minds is, 'How do we carry this over to L.A.?' ''

Sprewell scored 28 points and Fred Hoiberg added 14 for the Timberwolves, who prevented the Lakers from winning a potential series-ending game for the first time since Game 5 of the 2000 NBA Finals.

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant had won their last 12 clinchers, but the Timberwolves avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season. A raucous home crowd cheered another draining performance by Garnett, who played every position and sat out for just 2 1/2 minutes.

Garnett also hit five free throws in the final 2:04. Derek Fisher hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make the final score close, but the Timberwolves made just six turnovers and got countless big shots from Garnett, Sprewell and Hoiberg.

''That was the key tonight: They were able to play almost perfect basketball,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Bryant scored 23 points, and Karl Malone and Fisher added 17 apiece for the Lakers, who host Game 6 Monday night.

Only seven teams in NBA history have recovered from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series, and the Lakers have never blown such a lead.

Before fouling out with 5.3 seconds left, O'Neal scored 17 points on just 11 shots. Minnesota used a smaller lineup to force Shaq to guard Garnett on the perimeter.

O'Neal left the Target Center quickly, brushing off reporters who asked about his meager shot total and a stretch of nearly 24 minutes between field goals.

''You'd have to ask the guys who didn't get me the ball,'' he said. ''It's very frustrating.''

It was a strange game all around for the Lakers, who were extraordinarily loose before the game Jackson said his team was ''giddy.'' And even the loss didn't affect the Lakers' cool: While Jackson took postgame questions from reporters, Bryant sneaked into the interview room and lobbed a softball question.

''How do you think the team is going to respond on (Monday)?'' Bryant asked.

''We'll win,'' Jackson said with a grin.

But the Lakers allowed 17 straight points by Minnesota starting late in the first half. Los Angeles fell behind 86-70 in the fourth quarter before scoring 10 in a row, but Hoiberg hit a difficult jumper while being fouled by Bryant with 2:29 left.

''Just a lucky shot and you know, we needed it at the time,'' Hoiberg said.

Injured All-Star Sam Cassell didn't suit up for the Timberwolves, but Hoiberg and Wally Szczerbiak hit big outside shots and Sprewell overcame his shooting struggles for his biggest game of the series. Sprewell and Garnett spoke before the game about the burden on their shoulders in Cassell's absence.

''We were flat when we came out, but we just kept attacking,'' Sprewell said. ''We knew we had to carry the team, and that's just going to have to continue. With Sam being out, it's on our shoulders.''

Garnett went 10-for-11 on free throws and even had four assists. While Garnett took his only rest in the fourth quarter, Cassell fanned him with a towel.

Led by Sprewell, Minnesota scored the final 13 points of the first half in just 3 1/2 minutes, then scored the first two baskets of the second half to take a 10-point lead.

Los Angeles' last-minute rally began too late but the Lakers' 54 percent free-throw shooting also influenced the outcome.

Coach Flip Saunders made two changes to his lineup, with Darrick Martin and Michael Olowokandi replacing Cassell and Ervin Johnson. Saunders hoped to get more scoring from his big men in the series, but the duo combined with Mark Madsen to score just seven points.



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