PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; Timberwolves lead 2-1.
To Minnesota, apparently so does Sacramento’s vaunted home-court advantage.
Another down-to-the-wire game is expected as the Timberwolves, looking to remain perfect at Arco Arena this season, try to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
The first two games in Minneapolis were up for grabs in the final minute, and Game 3 went to overtime.
“This is like two armies with lots of ammo,” Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett said. “You can’t have a quick ending.”
Garnett led the Timberwolves to a 114-113 victory Monday at Sacramento, scoring 15 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Two days after blowing a 10-point lead in the final four minutes to lose Game 2, the Kings overcame a 13-point deficit in the last two minutes of regulation Monday only to fall short.
“We should let this hurt the heck out of us tonight,” Sacramento’s Chris Webber said. “Hopefully the pain will sink in.”
What’s painfully obvious is that the often hostile, and extremely loud Arco Arena crowd does not intimidate the Timberwolves.
Of Sacramento’s eight home losses this season, three have come to Minnesota. The Timberwolves were the only team to win at Arco twice during the regular season.
“They have a good crowd. It’s a fun place to play,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “It’s very hard to come into this place and win three times in a row.”
The Kings had won eight of their previous nine home playoff games, including all three in this year’s first round against Dallas.
“We view ourselves as a team that plays well on the road,” said Garnett, who also had 15 rebounds and five blocks. “We’ll find motivation off the boos. This is a home away from home.”
Besides taking back the home-court advantage in this series, Minnesota had to be particularly encouraged by the win because it came without a good game from Sam Cassell.
Cassell, who scored eight of his 19 points in the final four minutes of Game 2 and had 40 points in Game 1, was held to nine points before fouling out with 1:26 left in regulation.
Instead, it was Garnett hitting the big shots late in the game after Latrell Sprewell and Trenton Hassell helped Minnesota build a big lead. Sprewell had 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Hassell added 16 points and five assists.
“You have to tip your hat to these guys, they worked hard,” Cassell said. “You have to give it up to Trenton Hassell, Latrell Sprewell and Kevin Garnett. They really took over the game.”
Peja Stojakovic attempted to do that for Sacramento, scoring 22 of his 29 points after the third quarter. He had a chance to win it, but failed to draw a foul from Hassell on an awkward jumper shortly before time expired in overtime.
Stojakovic also had a chance to convert what would have been critical three-point plays late in regulation and overtime, but missed the free throw on both occasions. Stojakovic finished 4-of-7 from the foul line after making 66 consecutive free throws.
“We lost the game. We’ve got to come back stronger,” Stojakovic said. “We can’t rely on the last-second shot. We did make a great effort in the fourth quarter and came back and in overtime. We just didn’t have enough energy.”
The Kings clearly need Mike Bibby to be a bigger part of the offense to be successful.
Bibby was limited to eight points through the game’s first 43 minutes Monday as Sacramento got down by 14 points. He had 11 points in the final five minutes of regulation, but went scoreless in overtime and fouled out with 2:33 left.
The All-Star point guard scored 33 points in Sacramento’s win in Game 1, then was held to 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting in Game 2.
“We’re definitely going to bounce back. I’m not worried about that,” Bibby said. “We kept fighting, we didn’t give up. A lot of people in the stands were leaving, but we didn’t give up. The last two games both hurt. I don’t know which is worse, they both hurt.”
Game 5 is Friday in Minneapolis.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Timberwolves - Garnett, 25.4 ppg, 14.8 rpg and 6.1 apg. Kings - Bibby, 22.5 ppg and 6.0 apg; Miller, 9.0 rpg.