PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; series tied 1-1.
That tandem may be the biggest reason why Minnesota still has a good shot to get past the second round.
After barely avoiding falling into an 0-2 hole at home, the Timberwolves hope to keep benefitting from Cassell’s clutch offense and Sprewell’s solid defense as their semifinal series with the Sacramento Kings shifts to Arco Arena.
These teams head to Sacramento with the series tied 1-1 after the Timberwolves rallied for a 94-89 victory in Saturday’s Game 2.
“It’s going to be a battle in Game 3,” Cassell said. “They understand it and we understand it. There’s no holds barred.”
Cassell had a quiet game Saturday until the final four minutes, when he scored eight of his 19 points to lead Minnesota’s comeback from a 10-point deficit.
“He is either going to win it or he’s going to lose it. He’s a guy that plays with a lot of confidence, and he’s a gamer,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said of Cassell, who also had seven assists with only one turnover.
“A lot of the time with Sam, it’s not how many he scored but when he scored.”
Cassell was the only reason the Timberwolves were not blown out in Game 1 as he scored 40 points—more than twice as many as any of his teammates—in a 104-98 defeat.
That game also saw Cassell’s counterpart at point guard, Mike Bibby, score 33 points as Sacramento stole away the home-court advantage in this series.
Kings coach Rick Adelman made an adjustment for Game 2 by giving Sprewell the defensive assignment of guarding Bibby. The move worked as Sprewell’s height and wingspan, and his unrelenting pursuit seemed to rattle Bibby, who was held to 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting Saturday.
“Spree is one of the top defenders in this league. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves,” Cassell said. “He puts a bigger body on Bibby, and Spree did a magnificent job of changing his shot.”
Bibby and the Kings wasted a golden opportunity to leave Minnesota with a 2-0 series lead. Now they return to Arco Arena, where they have won eight of their last nine playoff games.
However, the Timberwolves were the only visiting team to win twice in Sacramento this season.
“Now we’re going home, but I think this series is not all about homecourt advantage,” Adelman said. “We certainly showed we can win (in Minnesota), and they certainly have beaten us at our place.
“It’s about winning four games and when you let one slip away, when you have an opportunity to control the series, it’s a tough one. It will test our mettle to come back on Monday, because they’re up in the air right now and we’re a little deflated.”
Though the Kings left Minneapolis with a split, Adelman has to be concerned with the way Game 2 ended.
With Bibby struggling for good looks, Doug Christie was the one taking big shots down the stretch while Sacramento’s other top scoring options disappeared offensively.
Kevin Garnett was outstanding at both ends of the floor for Minnesota, finishing with 28 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. He scored just 16 points on 6-of-21 shooting with six turnovers in Game 1.
“You don’t want to be down 2-0 to this type of team,” Garnett said. “This team has a lot of firepower, and right now they’re doing a lot of gimmicky stuff on defense. In our minds, it was a must-win.”
Outside of Garnett often having his way, Sacramento played strong defense for most of Game 2 before falling apart down the stretch. The Kings should be particularly focused on that end of the floor with the raucous Arco Arena crowd attempting to get in the Timberwolves’ heads.
“We go home now and we have to handle our business at home,” Bibby said. “We did what we wanted to do (split). It could still go either way. We play a lot better at home than on the road. We have two there, so we just need to get the first one and worry about the next one later.”
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Timberwolves - Garnett, 24.7 ppg, 14.7 rpg and 6.6 apg. Kings - Bibby, 23.0 ppg and 5.4 apg; Miller, 8.9 rpg.