MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Latrell Sprewell knew aggression was the answer to Minnesota’s search for success.
And with Sprewell at his slashing and scoring best, the Timberwolves moved within one win of the Western Conference finals.
Sprewell had 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists for Minnesota, which beat the Sacramento Kings 86-74 Friday night to take a 3-2 lead in this series.
“I think our entire team was really focused,” Sprewell said. “We played with a purpose.”
Game 6 is Sunday in Sacramento. Game 7, if necessary, would be Wednesday in Minneapolis. But the Kings will have to shoot and play a lot better if they want to force a Game 7.
“We’ve been in this position before,” said Chris Webber, who labored for 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting.
Brad Miller was ejected late in the third quarter without scoring, and leading scorer Peja Stojakovic disappeared once again—going 0-for-4 in the second half and finishing with 12 points for the Kings.
Sacramento’s much-celebrated offense missed two-thirds of its shots—going 27-for-81.
“We never got on track,” coach Rick Adelman said.
Much of the credit for that goes to Minnesota. After a woeful performance in Game 4, the Wolves were aggressive and tenacious at both ends of the court.
That started with Sprewell.
“There were lanes there,” he said. “I was just trying to get to get to the basket. … In this series, the more aggressive team—they’re getting the calls and they’re getting the breaks.”
Kevin Garnett, who had seven points, three rebounds and seven turnovers in the first half, wound up with 23 points and 12 rebounds. He helped hound Webber and Miller on defense, too. The pair combined for 48 points in Game 4.
The series has become increasingly testy in the last two games, and Miller, one of Sacramento’s most emotional players, lost his temper late in the third quarter.
Minnesota’s Darrick Martin collided with Miller while fighting through a screen and hit him in the midsection. Martin fell face-first to the floor, and an enraged Miller went over and shoved him hard in the back. Referee Steve Javie immediately gave both players a technical foul and ejected both.
“Brad, I guess, took exception to it,” Martin said. “It’s just playoff basketball.”
Sam Cassell had only three points and seven assists for the Wolves, but Sprewell more than made up the difference.
He hit back-to-back 3-pointers midway through the third to give Minnesota a 10-point cushion, and his last long-range shot gave the Wolves an 84-71 lead with 1:33 left.
“Spree was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer tonight,” Garnett said. “He led us all. He led the charge, and everyone else followed.”
Webber, whose game-high 28 points and tight defense on Garnett were keys to Sacramento’s series-tying victory in Game 4, had a horrible first half.
He missed all five shots he took, committed three fouls and didn’t score. Twenty seconds into the third quarter, Webber picked up his fourth foul and gave referee Derrick Stafford a long, bewildered glance.
Midway through the third quarter, he hobbled off with tightness in his right calf before returning three minutes later.
“It’s really hard to get in a rhythm when you don’t have your normal rotation and things like that,” Webber said. “But you’ve got to give them credit.”
Any advantage Minnesota gained by shutting down one-third of Sacramento’s top three was negated by Garnett’s struggles and Cassell’s silence.
Cassell picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and played only 11 minutes in the first half. He grimaced when he was on the court and wore a bulky wrap on his lower back when he sat on the bench.
In Game 4, the Wolves turned the ball over 24 times and settled too many times for one-pass-and-a-shot possessions. Though the aesthetics weren’t a whole lot better this time, Minnesota was consistently aggressive and much smarter with its shots selection.
Sprewell made it his priority to take the ball hard to the hoop. He had 10 points in the second quarter, and his fourth of five driving layups gave the Wolves their biggest lead of the first half at 32-26.
“He was on a mission to get to the basket,” said Fred Hoiberg, who had eight points and eight rebounds for Minnesota. “When he’s aggressive likethat, that opens it up for everybody.”
Mark Madsen had seven points and a career-high 13 rebounds for Minnesota. … Wally Szczerbiak returned for the Wolves after sitting out the last six games with three cracked bones in his back. … Darius Songaila made his series debut for Sacramento, which lengthened its rotation beyond seven forthe first time. Songaila had six points.