T'wolves rout Lakers, tie series with 89-71 win

Technicals mar 4th period

Cassell leaves with injury

May 24, 2004|By Sam Smith | Sam Smith,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MINNEAPOLIS - Remember when everyone was celebrating the greatness of the Los Angeles Lakers? Yes, that was Saturday.

They weren't yesterday as the Minnesota Timberwolves dominated them in an 89-71 victory that evened the NBA's Western Conference finals at 1-1 and equaled the Lakers' franchise low for scoring in a playoff game. Game 3 is tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

"All we've done now is make it a series," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said.

And it looks like it may become serious. The teams combined for seven fourth-quarter technical fouls, including Karl Malone being ejected for a flagrant elbowing foul late in the game with the Lakers trailing by 18.

"It's only the beginning," Saunders said. "When you play a team two times in three days, you start not liking one another."

Sore losers, the lovable Lakers?

"Blame it on the rain," said Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, noting the gray ugliness.

And then there was the all-day rain outside.

"I won't be looking to go 4-for-10 when I get home," promised O'Neal, who had a passive 14 points (he was outscored at halftime by Ervin Johnson, 5-4.) "Guys are a little upset, and I know how we're going to react."

Perhaps by caring a little more. The Timberwolves, even with injured point guard Sam Cassell (Dunbar) playing just 43 seconds to start the game, outplayed the Lakers with defensive pressure and Kevin Garnett's 24 points and 11 rebounds.

"We weren't desperate," agreed Kobe Bryant, who led the Lakers with 27 points. "We'll have to live with the split."

It still leaves the Lakers with the edge. It seems unlikely Malone will be suspended for his misdirected elbow. The question is whether the Lakers can correct the angle of their shots, which included 35.7 percent on field goals and 51.7 percent on free throws.

"We had to find a way to play harder than L.A.," Saunders said.

The Timberwolves did, posting more assists, steals, blocks, offensive rebounds and fouls, everything but technical fouls.

"Maybe I was a little testy," Malone said. "We should be bigger boys than that."

The Timberwolves even had some inspiration from Cassell, doing his Willis Reed best as he hobbled downcourt and bear-hugged Gary Payton the first time Payton flew by him. Saunders yanked Cassell immediately, and reserve Darrick Martin wound up scoring 15 points.

"They got a spark from the momentum of Sam coming out and trying to play hurt," Bryant said.

The Timberwolves pushed aggressively on the perimeter to deny the Lakers' easy entry passes to O'Neal and set punishing back picks.

"They beat us to the punch," Lakers coach Phil Jackson noted in what could become a theme for Game 3. "They came out swinging and got us on the ropes with their aggressiveness. I don't think we expected them to come out with as much bravado. They were setting some back picks and knocking down guys. We got tired of that stuff."

Not enough to change the outcome.

Malone picked up a quick third foul early in the second quarter. It enabled Garnett to play off the Lakers' substitutes and frustrate O'Neal.

"Shaq didn't look like he was doing too much," Garnett said. "We were doing a good job of running guys at him."

It was never much of a contest as the Timberwolves jumped ahead 32-24 after one quarter and led by 14 at halftime.

How bad was it for the Lakers? In the end it was Latrell Sprewell counseling them to remain calm.

"The thing you have to do," Sprewell said, "is keep your composure and not get caught up in it too much."

Now that really hurt.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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