Timberwolves 89, Lakers 71

Preview | Box Score | Recap | Series Breakdown

MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Sam Cassell is too quick, too vocal and too important to the Minnesota Timberwolves to be replaced by just one man.

So when Cassell’s aching back limited him to a token appearance in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Kevin Garnett raised his voice, Darrick Martin raised his game—and when the Lakers raised their dukes, Minnesota kept its cool.

Garnett had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Martin scored 15 points in place of Cassell, leading the Timberwolves to a 89-71 victory over Los Angeles on Sunday night.

Latrell Sprewell scored 17 points and Wally Szczerbiak had 16, but the Wolves needed an impressive group effort to even the series in a game dominated by good defense and bad feelings—including seven technical fouls and several trash-talking staredowns in the fourth quarter.

Martin—a nine-year journeyman signed out of the CBA during the regular season—played 36 minutes when Cassell’s back tightened up after just 43 seconds of play. Martin had a few regrettable shots, but he made no turnovers and got six assists—and he even got flattened by Karl Malone, who was ejected for a flagrant foul.

“That was a great time for me,” Martin said. “We knew it had to be a group effort. Everybody picked up their games. KG handled the ball, Latrell was more aggressive, and I tried not to make any mistakes.”

Though the statistic says more about the Lakers’ apparent boredom than Martin’s excellence, he outscored Los Angeles’ entire frontcourt in the first half. He scored on a wild fling at the hoop shortly before halftime—and he even got cocky, glaring at the Lakers’ bench after making a 3-pointer with 3:02 to play.

Garnett did the rest, scoring 14 points in the second half.

“We didn’t have a choice,” Garnett said of Minnesota’s superb team play. “Our general was out. We just kind of looked at ourselves and said … ‘OK, it’s up to us now.”’

Garnett closed the third quarter with a 3-pointer that helped Minnesota hold off a one-man rally by Kobe Bryant, who scored 27 points and briefly roused the Lakers from their game-long slumber. It wasn’t nearly enough, and the Lakers matched the lowest-scoring playoff game in franchise history while making less than 37 percent of their shots.

Malone acknowledged he lost his head when he threw a shoulder into Martin with 2:31 left, but it only added spice to a series that appeared to be a bit one-sided after the Lakers’ victory in Game 1. Instead, the teams are tied heading to Game 3 in Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

“We didn’t handle that situation good,” said Malone, who had just five points while battling constant foul trouble. “Give them credit. They kept their composure and won the game.”

Shaquille O’Neal had 14 points and 16 rebounds, but didn’t strike fear in the Timberwolves as he did in Game 2. He picked up a technical early in the fourth after jawing with Gary Trent.

“You have to anticipate every series being physical at some point,” Garnett said. “It’s no big deal. We can handle ourselves.”

Cassell’s back has bothered him since early in the playoffs, and he had trouble even walking without pain before Game 2. He returned to the Timberwolves’ bench in the closing minutes, exhorting his teammates in his typically theatrical fashion.

“I’m going,” Cassell said of Game 3. “I’ll be on the court more than 43 seconds, I promise.”

The Lakers trailed 58-40 early in the third before Bryant scored six straight points, hitting jumpers and making big defensive plays. Los Angeles got within seven points moments later, but Minnesota made an 11-3 run and never was threatened in the fourth.

First-half foul trouble was responsible for a series of unorthodox lineups for the Lakers, with 11 players seeing action—including seldom-used rookies Brian Cook and Luke Walton. The Timberwolves used their entire roster in the first half, sending four big men against O’Neal and fouling frequently.

“We weren’t desperate. They were,” Bryant said. “They played harder. We didn’t match their intensity. We’ll have to live with the split.”

Minnesota’s reserves outscored the Lakers’ 41-14—but Szczerbiak and Martin played starters’ minutes in the backcourt in place of Cassell and Trenton Hassell. Szczerbiak also had seven assists in his most impressive performanceof an injury-plagued season.

Notes

Minnesota’s victory guaranteed Game 5 will be played back at the Target Center on Saturday. … Gary Payton hit two 3-pointers but had just eight points for the Lakers. … Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson nearly got the eighthtechnical foul of the fourth quarter, but the officials reconsidered.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 LA Lakers
K. Bryant K. Bryant
10-24,  27 Pts
5 Rebs, 6 Assists
 Minnesota
K. Garnett K. Garnett
10-20,  24 Pts
11 Rebs, 3 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists