MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Kevin Garnett endured another rough start, but he was there for his team at the end.
Garnett struggled for the second straight game, making just 8-of-24 field goals. Sam Cassell scored 16 points off the bench to help Minnesota win its fourth straight game.
“He’s not going to make every shot,” Cassell said of Garnett. “But he had a big block, a big rebound. He’ll do what he has to do to make the team successful.”
Garnett’s job is easier when Cassell is healthy and playing as he did in his All-Star season last year.
The Timberwolves point guard, hounded by injuries all season, made a 3-pointer off a Garnett pass with 2:03 left to put the Wolves up for good, 83-80, then returned the favor by feeding Garnett inside for a lay-up with 1:30 to play.
“I’ve never considered myself a superb shooter,” Garnett said. “I can score the basketball, but there’s going to be times where I have a game like this. But I have the ability to do different things to influence the game.”
Despite Garnett’s late burst, Minnesota couldn’t put the game away. Bobby Simmons’ 3-pointer with 32.6 seconds left brought the Clippers within 86-83, then Minnesota’s Fred Hoiberg, a 90-percent free-throw shooter, missed a pair with 17 seconds left.
Corey Maggette missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left, before Garnett iced the game with two free throws. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Los Angeles.
“We just didn’t weather the storm at the end,” Maggette said.
Minnesota moved within 2 1/2 games of Denver for eighth place in the Western Conference.
Elton Brand had 25 points to lead Los Angeles, which twice rallied from double-digit deficits.
Brand guarded Garnett for most of the game and forced him away from the basket. Garnett hit only three of his first 15 shots through three quarters, but he made 4-of-5 to start the final quarter.
Asked how he defended Garnett, Brand said, “Just contest all the shots that he shoots.”
Garnett had six points during a 10-0 run after the Clippers had rallied to tie the score 68-68. But the Clippers answered with a 12-2 run, capped by Brand’s jumper with 3:11 left that tied it at 80.
Cassell shot 6-of-10 from the field, a day after scoring 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting in a 96-75 win over New Jersey. He has missed 23 of the team’s last 40 games due to a hamstring injury and lost his starting point guard job in the process.
But Cassell has come off the bench in the last three games to score in double figures for the Wolves.
“I just wish I was healthy all year for this team, to show what we can do,” Cassell said.
Garnett, who shot 0-for-7 from the field in the first half Saturday, made only 1-of-7 from the field in the first quarter and sat out the first seven minutes of the second quarter.
With their leading scorer on the bench, the Wolves outscored the Clippers 21-8 to start the quarter, including a 12-0 Garnett-less run, and led by nine at halftime.
The Clippers are now seven games behind Denver in the West, and with nine of their final 12 games on the road, they face long odds in an effort for their first playoff berth since 1997.
“We’ve done a good job of playing defense, being in the game,” Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. “We need to find a way to finish them.”
Before the game, a moment of silence was observed for longtime Minnesota Twins public address announcer Bob Casey, who died Sunday morning at age 79. … Minnesota’s Mark Madsen will undergo surgery on his injured right wrist Tuesday in the Twin Cities. Hand specialist Dr. Thomas Varecka will perform the surgery. Madsen is out for the rest of the season.