NBA Playoff Notebook: Timberwolves get much needed win
(Sports Network) - The Minnesota Timberwolves knotted their best-of-seven Western Conference final set with the Los Angeles Lakers at 1-1, as league MVP Kevin Garnett finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds in 42 minutes of action during Game 2s 89-71 victory.
All-Star guard Sam Cassell, who has been bothered by back and hip soreness, left Game 2 just 43 seconds into the first quarter and did not return. Reserve Darrick Martin, who did not play in Game 1, replaced Cassell and chipped in 15 points and six assists in the win.
"When Sam is out, everything is simplified. We don't go to a myriad of plays," said Cassell. "We go to about three to four sets. Myself, I handled the ball at times. When I see a defender playing a player a certain way, I might break the play. Just draw and kick and make something happen. It is nothing too complex. With him being out of the game, everybody needs to take responsibility. We knew we needed to help D-Martin out with the ball, and we came out and were focused from the jump."
With the void left by Cassell, Latrell Sprewell stepped up in Game 2 and contributed 17 points and eight assists in 43 minutes, while Wally Szczerbiak came off the bench and finished with 16 points, five boards and seven helpers in 39 minutes of action.
"It was a great team game," said Minnesota head coach Flip Saunders. "Our bench was huge. Wally (Szczerbiak) and Darrick Martin. What can you say? Darrick hadn't played in three games. I told him it was like back in the CBA days. He did a great job coming in."
The Lakers were led by All-Star Kobe Bryant, who ended with 27 points, five rebounds and six assists in 41 minutes. The Timberwolves held Shaquille O'Neal in check, as the All-Star center finished 4-of-10 from the field and registered just 14 points to go along with a game-high 16 boards.
"A lot has to do with how they defended (O'Neal)," said Lakers' head coach Phil Jackson. "They denied Shaq the ball, and Shaq can normally free up shooters. But Shaq just never got into the position to be a threat."
Bryant has averaged 25 points and six assists in the first two contests of the series, while O'Neal has checked in with 20.5 points, 17 rebounds and three blocks against Minnesota.
"We have to tip our hats to them," said Bryant. "They made some big shots and made shots when they had to. We weren't desperate. They were. They played harder and we weren't able to match their intensity, so we'll have to live with the split. We just have to go back to L.A. and win Game 3."
Minnesota knows that they need a similar performance in Game 3 if they want to be successful against a Lakers team that is capable of putting the game out of reach in a matter of minutes. The Timberwolves need to continue to play hard- nosed defense.
"I think it's only the beginning," said Saunders. "When you play a team two times in three days, you start to not like each other. I thought we went out and did our things within the realm of what's allowed. We play hard, not dirty. We had a heckuva defensive effort, to hold a team like that to 71 points. What happened was not out of the realm. Both teams just played hard."
The Timberwolves expect Shaq to be ready to redeem himself in Game 3 from his performance in Game 2.
"I think the difference between Game 1 and Game 2 with Shaq was, it didn't look like he was looking too much, he was just going," said Garnett. "I think tonight we did a really good job of running guys at him a little bit. It is a series of adjustments. He will think about this game and be ready for Game 3, and we have to anticipate that."
The Lakers, who are a perfect 6-0 as the host in this year's playoffs, have advanced the conference finals 14 times since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1961. LA has won three straight and 12 of its 14 trips to this round. The Lakers two losses in the West finals came against Houston in 1986 and Utah in 1998.
This is the second time that the teams have met in the playoffs. In the first round of the 2003 postseason, the Lakers eliminated the Timberwolves in six games.LAL MIN