Wolves outgun Lakers 89-71 to even series
Even without injured Sam Cassell, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the energy and attitude to even the Western Conference finals.
Kevin Garnett scored 24 points and Darrick Martin had 15 points and six assists in place of Cassell, leading the Timberwolves to a 89-71 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 Sunday night.
Latrell Sprewell scored 17 points and Wally Szczerbiak had 16, but the Wolves relied on their MVP to put away a game dominated by good defense and bad feelings.
There were seven technical fouls and several trash-talking staredowns in the fourth quarter. Karl Malone was ejected with 2:31 left for a flagrant foul on Martin, adding spice to a series that appeared to be a bit one-sided after the Lakers' victory in Game 1.
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.
Minnesota coach Flip Saunders had called it a must-win game, and his players responded with all the passion Los Angeles lacked — and Cassell, who played just 43 seconds because of his aching back, surely loved his teammates' toughness in the chippy final minutes.
Martin, a nine-year journeyman signed out of the CBA, 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.
Just 31 seconds later, Malone knocked down Martin, who was unhurt.
Shaquille O'Neal had 14 points and 16 rebounds, and Malone scored just five points while battling constant foul trouble.
Game 3 is Tuesday night at Staples Center. Minnesota's victory guaranteed Game 5 will be played back at the Target Center on Saturday.
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.
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.
Malone played strong defense on Garnett in the opener, but the Mailman got his third personal foul early in the second quarter of Game 2, leaving Slava Medvedenko and Brian Cook to contend with The Kid. The results were predictable: Garnett scored nine points in the fourth quarter.
First-half foul trouble was responsible for a series of unorthodox lineups for the Lakers, with 11 players seeing action — including seldom-used rookies Cook and Luke Walton. The Timberwolves used their entire roster in the first half, sending four big men against O'Neal and fouling frequently.
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 performance of an injury-plagued season.
But the Lakers had none of the passion they showed in an impressive 97-88 victory in Game 1. O'Neal struggled in the post and went 6-for-14 from the line after going 9-for-11 in the opener.