Timberwolves 86, Spurs 81

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Sam Cassell wasn’t thrilled after the third triple-double of his career.

Cassell had 14 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds as the Minnesota Timberwolves held off San Antonio 86-81 Tuesday night and extended their Midwest Division lead to three games over the Spurs.

Cassell was harassed into a 2-for-11 performance from the floor by defensive specialist Bruce Bowen but went 10-for-11 at the free throw line.

“I was terrible,” Cassell said. “That’s cool, but I pride myself on making shots.”

He paused.

“We won the game. I’ll take that any night.”

Despite his poor shooting effort, Cassell made four crucial foul shots in the final two minutes. It was his first triple-double of the season. Kevin Garnett scored 27 points and Latrell Sprewell added 20 as the Wolves won their third straight.

The Spurs have lost four consecutive road games.

“We just couldn’t find someone to knock shots down,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “A lot of guys had tough nights shooting.”

It was a much different scene than when the teams played last Thursday, the Spurs embarrassing the Wolves 106-86 in San Antonio. Garnett said that loss gave the Wolves plenty of motivation.

“Flip (Saunders) talked about the game we played in San Antonio, which was garbage,” Garnett said. “A lot of energy filled the gym and we carried that over into tonight.”

With NBA commissioner David Stern in attendance, two of the league’s leading MVP candidates—Garnett and Tim Duncan—gave a thrilling performance.

“That’s the way the playoffs are going to be,” Saunders said.

Duncan, in his second game in the starting lineup since returning from a left knee injury, led San Antonio with 26 points, but missed a pair of critical free throws that would’ve given the Spurs a two-point lead with 2:17 to play.

“I put this one on my shoulders. I had two or three opportunities at the end of the game to score,” Duncan said. “I just didn’t get it done.”

Garnett made two free throws and a short fadeaway to tie the game at 81, and Cassell hit two free throws with 2:02 left to give Minnesota a 83-81 lead.

After a couple of scoreless possessions, Hedo Turkoglu missed a 3-pointer with about 30 seconds left, and Manu Ginobili got the loose ball to give the Spurs another chance. But Ervin Johnson tied up Duncan with 15.3 seconds to play and won the ensuing jump ball, and Cassell was fouled with nine seconds left.

Tony Parker missed on a drive on San Antonio’s next possession, and Garnett was fouled on the rebound to seal it.

It was critical game for each team. Minnesota plays seven of its final 11 games on the road while the Spurs play seven of 11 at home.

Garnett and Duncan put up their usual MVP numbers. But it was the Wolves’ role players that made the difference. Besides Cassell and Sprewell, Minnesota got key minutes from Johnson (eight points and eight rebounds) and Trenton Hassell, who played strong defense on Parker.

Both teams started off fast with eleven lead changes in the first six minutes. Sprewell sparked Minnesota with 12 first-quarter points and powered the Wolves to a 16-4 run for a 35-22 after one quarter.

Malik Rose got hot for San Antonio in the second quarter and the Spurs outscored the Wolves 25-12. Rose scored nine points in the quarter and sparkeda 16-4 spurt that made it 47-all at halftime.

Notes

The triple-double was Cassell’s first since Jan. 23, 2003. … The teams split the season series 2-2. … Wolves backup point guard Troy Hudson missed his second straight game with a sore right ankle. Saunders said Hudson is making progress, although Saunders doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play Wednesday night at Denver. … Stern met with the media for an informal interview session before the game. When asked about whether he’d like Garnett to play on the U.S. Olympic team, Stern said: “If I see him during warmups, I’ll whisper in his ear that it’s the right thing.” … The Spurs last won two games in Minneapolis in the 1997-98 season. … Sprewell nearly made a spectacular shot from beyond the halfcourt line at the end of the third quarter. The heave hit off the backboard and rattled out of the rim, drawing aloud “OOHH!” from the crowd.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 San Antonio
T. Duncan T. Duncan
12-23,  26 Pts
8 Rebs, 5 Assists
 Minnesota
S. Cassell S. Cassell
2-11,  14 Pts
10 Rebs, 11 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists