Timberwolves tame Lakers, cut lead to 3-2

Garnett gets 30 points, 19 rebounds in 98-96 win

May 30, 2004|By Sam Smith | Sam Smith,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MINNEAPOLIS - The task was different for each team last night at the Target Center in the Minnesota Timberwolves' 98-96 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals.

The Lakers were trying to extinguish the fire and emotion that burned within Minnesota and enabled the Timberwolves to become the winningest team in the Western Conference.

The Timberwolves, doubted all along, sought to thwart a seemingly superior foe.

So the coaches looked down their benches and called on familiar figures.

The Timberwolves, behind Kevin Garnett's brilliance and Latrell Sprewell's ferocity, trimmed to Lakers' series lead to 3-2.

Game 6 will be tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Garnett collected 30 points and 19 rebounds, while Sprewell scored 28 to go with five assists.

Kobe Bryant's 23 points paced the Lakers, and Shaquille O'Neal, who fouled out, had 17 points.

"They did a good job playing our wings, making our guards penetrate and pitch," Bryant said. "We had good looks. The shots just didn't go down."

And now it's back on the road for Minnesota, the winningest Western Conference road team this season.

"You can't win a championship unless you win on the road," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said.

"When I left the locker room, they were in a giddy mood," coach Phil Jackson said about the pregame demeanor of his Lakers. "Sometimes you have to settle them down and understand it takes a real concerted effort to get it accomplished.

"I told them it might have been the first time I said it this year - to get their game face on and get ready for the game."

The Lakers opened with a 20-10 lead but missed several open three-pointers that could have knocked out the Timberwolves early, as Minnesota shot 27 percent in the first quarter.

The Lakers had closed out 12 straight playoff opponents in their first opportunity since 2000, and it looked like it would be another.

Saunders had been considering lineup changes, especially with Sam Cassell (Dunbar) in street clothes nursing a bad back.

Saunders felt it would be too much a sign of desperation to his players to make major changes. So he started Michael Olowokandi and Darrick Martin.

But with his team falling behind and the crowd of 20,109 unenthusiastic, Saunders opted for the small, good-shooting lineup.

The Timberwolves went to Wally Szczerbiak and Fred Hoiberg late in the first quarter, initially moving Mark Madsen to center and having Garnett defend O'Neal, with double-teaming help.

"Flip is in a position where he has to do anything to try to pull out a win," Jackson said.

With Sprewell running pick-and-roll plays off Garnett, Minnesota's energy increased.

The result was a 13-0 Timberwolves run to close the first half that gave them a 46-40 lead despite 14 points from Bryant.

"Teams have situational things that happen where they might lose hope," Jackson said. "This Minnesota team believes it can win."

The Timberwolves took a 50-40 lead before the Lakers composed themselves and began, under demands from Jackson, to seek out O'Neal.

O'Neal and Bryant combined for 10 straight Lakers points, but Hoiberg and Szczerbiak closed the third quarter with the last eight points to give Minnesota a 73-63 lead.

"We wanted the chance to close the game out," Bryant said. "We wanted to finish the series. It wasn't for lack of effort. The [Timberwolves] played extremely hard."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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