MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—With four minutes remaining, the Minnesota Timberwolves faced a 10-point deficit and the prospect of leaving their homecourt down 0-2 in the Western Conference semifinals.
Cassell scored eight points in the final three minutes, Kevin Garnett had 28 points and 11 rebounds and the Timberwolves closed with a 16-1 run to beat the Kings 94-89 on Saturday.
“If we had lost this one,” Cassell said, “it would’ve been a long night.”
Game 3 is Monday night at raucous Arco Arena, where Minnesota was the only visitor this season to win twice. The Kings, though, have won eight of their last nine playoff games at home and are 138-26 there during the last four regular seasons.
That’s why winning this game was absolutely critical to the top-seeded Timberwolves’ chance of winning this series.
“This was a game we definitely should’ve had, but we gave it away,” said Mike Bibby, who went from 69 points in his previous two games to just 10 points in this one.
But the Kings started rushing their offense, and suddenly Christie became their primary option with Bibby and leading-scorer Stojakovic just watching the disintegration.
“We had good looks, you know?” coach Rick Adelman said. “I thought we could’ve been a little more patient. We were trying to attack them so fast.”
It wouldn’t have mattered if they took care of things on the other end. After playing a commendable defensive game, Sacramento couldn’t make any stops.
“You’ve got to play 48 minutes,” Christie said.
Cassell, who was quiet for most of the game after scoring 40 points in the Game 1 loss, scored 19 points and was squarely behind the rally.
His jumper in the lane with 2:08 left pulled the Wolves to 88-87. Garnett, fouled by Brad Miller on a loose-ball scramble that knocked over referee Sean Corbin, made two free throws to give Minnesota the lead with 1:45 remaining.
“This was about sheer will and determination,” Garnett said. “We’d been down to this team before. We feel if you keep digging and keep digging, you’ll get back in the game. … You don’t want to be down 2-0 to this type of team. This team has a lot of firepower.”
Christie, who had 15 points, missed a pair of foul shots on the other end, and Cassell knocked down a corner jumper with 24.6 seconds to go to make it 91-88.
“I just tried to get us a good look,” Cassell said. “I know they were pounding on Kevin all night.”
Christie’s pressured 3-pointer from the corner, which would’ve tied the game, fell short with 10 seconds remaining.
Sprewell also contributed 15 points, and Fred Hoiberg added 13. With Minnesota leading by three, Hoiberg grabbed Sprewell’s second missed foul shot with 9.1 seconds left and made two free throws of his own to seal the win.
The Kings led the league in field goal percentage this season, but their first-half shooting (34 percent) suggested otherwise. Webber was 3-for-11, Stojakovic went 3-for-10 and Bibby missed four of five.
Sacramento surged back midway through the third quarter, though, as Stojakovic started to hit. Bibby found a brief groove at the start of the fourth, and the Kings began the period with eight straight points to take their first lead since 6-4.
With Garnett on the bench, the Wolves went scoreless for the first 5 1/2 minutes of the fourth until Cassell’s jumper got them going and cut Sacramento’s advantage to 78-75 with 6:29 remaining.
Garnett and Sprewell played closer to their usual selves after low-impact performances in Game 1. Though Webber had him well-defended in the lane, Garnett found the right times to move out to the baseline where his jumper was working well.
Sprewell, who went 2-for-14 in the opener, rediscovered his effective mix of perimeter shots and slashes to the hoop.
Hoiberg, with 11 points, was the first-half highlight. He sank three 3-pointers and turned a steal into a fast-break layup over a span of less than seven minutes in the second quarter as Minnesota built a 14-point lead, itsbiggest of the game.
Stojakovic has made 64 consecutive free throws. … Seldom-used Gary Trent had two points in 13 minutes for Minnesota. He knocked over four fans sitting courtside on a diving attempt to save a loose ball. … Sacramento super-sub Bobby Jackson participated in the morning shootaround. He’s still bothered by a slight abdominal tear, though, and is unsure when he can playagain.