Szczerbiak and Garnett scored 20 of their team’s final 23 points as the Minnesota Timberwolves capped a five-game road trip with an impressive victory over the league-leading Mavericks, 92-83.
“We are aggressive,” Garnett said. “It’s only when we are passive, we let the defense come at us, or we are not going back as hard as they are coming at us - that is the only time I am bothered. When we are playing aggressive, we can play with anybody.”
Minnesota scored the first eight points of the game and led by double digits for most of the first half. It had an 18-point advantage early in the third quarter and carried a 65-55 edge into the final 12 minutes.
But Dallas got hot from the outside and tied it for the first time, 71-71, on a 3-pointer by Michael Finley with 5:20 remaining. Szczerbiak countered 20 seconds later with a shot from the arc before Finley sank a layup to make it 74-73 with 4:29 left.
The Mavericks stopped Minnesota and had a chance to take their first lead, but Finley missed a jumper and Szczerbiak nailed another 3-pointer to give the Timberwolves a four-point cushion with 3:32 to play.
“They played a lot of zone, and we had problems when we didn’t have Wally in the game against the zone,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. “Wally picked some open seams and our guys found him, and he knocked down some big shots.”
Garnett took over, scoring six of Minnesota’s next seven points to open an 84-77 lead with 1:11 left. Dallas got no closer than five points thereafter.
“They have a team that can cut a 12-point lead to single digits in a heartbeat,” Garnett said. “I wasn’t going to let the defense rest or have the chance to relax a little bit. I just continued to attack even though they were in a zone. I told Wally, (Anthony Peeler) and even Troy (Hudson), ‘If they come and double-team, be ready to shoot.’”
“It was frustrating and it took the air out of us a little bit,” Finley said. That’s the way that they have been playing all year. Kevin made big shots down the stretch, Szczerbiak as well. We were unable to make shots.”
Garnett collected 31 points and 18 rebounds and Szczerbiak scored 27 points for Minnesota, which won the final two games of the road trip after losing the first three.
“We have guys with a lot of heart,” Szczerbiak said. “It’s not easy playing the last game of a five-game road trip, but tonight we banded together like a band of brothers, and said we weren’t going to lose. Kevin Garnett was huge again, and I was able to get going in the fourth quarter.”
Rasho Nesterovic added 11 point and a career-high nine blocks. The Mavericks blocked just one shot.
Dirk Nowitzki totaled 37 points and 13 rebounds for Dallas before fouling out in the final minutes. Finley added 17 and 13 but shot just 7-of-27, including 2-of-11 from the arc.
“We did everything that we needed to do to win the game except shoot well,” Finley said. “Who would have ever thought that a Dallas team would shoot so low? You have to tip your hat to their team. They are playing well and they executed well down the stretch when they needed big buckets.”
Steve Nash scored only eight points on 4-of-13 shooting for Dallas, which connected at a season-low 32 percent (33-of-103) from the field and allowed Minnesota to shoot 48 percent (35-of-73).
“I thought defensively we were really active,” Saunders said. “We really contested a lot of shots.”
The Mavs, who had a season-high 30 offensive rebounds, had won four straight and 10 of the previous 12 games.
Minnesota took a 24-11 lead after one period behind 12 points from Garnett. The Timberwolves extended their advantage to 47-33 at the half.
“It’s been happening a lot to us against the good teams,” Mavs guard Nick Van Exel said of their poor start. “We just start off slow and have to fight our way back. It took a lot of energy out of us to get back into the game. (Minnesota played last night (at Phoenix), but they played like they wanted it a little bit more than us down the stretch.”