-- The Minnesota Timberwolves ran off the Arco Arena court in celebration late Monday night while the Sacramento Kings stomped to their locker room, fuming, hurt and shaken that things ended the way they did.
After 10 riveting and emotionally draining minutes in which Sacramento rallied from a 15-point, fourth-quarter deficit to have the outcome hanging in the balance with just seconds left in overtime, Peja Stojakovic's 20-foot shot at the buzzer, like the Kings' stunning comeback, fell short.
The breathtaking finish -- the third straight pulse-pounding Western Conference semifinal game between the teams -- ended with the Timberwolves winning, 114-113, taking a 2-1 series lead and with fans, who had gone from booing the home team to shaking the rafters in cheer, throwing objects onto the court.
"The last two games hurt," Kings guard Mike Bibby (19 points, 10 assists) said of Minnesota snatching a victory that was within the Kings' clutches for the second consecutive game. "I don't know which is worse."
After allowing the Timberwolves to close out Game 2 with a 16-1 run that left them five-point victors, the Kings staged their own comeback Monday, this time a 17-4 onslaught, led by Stojakovic, to tie the game at 104 at the end of regulation. The Kings had momentum and Stojakovic's hot hand in their favor in overtime, but the NBA's most valuable player, Kevin Garnett, made the shot that would decide the game, a play that may now garner him the respect of being more than just a great regular season star.
With the shot clock winding down, he took a pass just below the free throw line. He looked at the shot clock at the other end of the court which showed three seconds remained, dribbled to his left, contorted his 7-foot-1 body and fired a shot that rolled around the rim and dropped in to give Minnesota a 114-111 lead.
"At that point I hadn't hit a shot for a minute and I noticed I was in a little bit of a rhythm so I took it," Garnett said.
Stojakovic, who scored 22 of his 29 points after the third quarter, made two free throws on the ensuing possession. After Garnett was called for traveling with four seconds left, giving Sacramento one more chance to win, Stojakovic's final shot -- one in which there appeared to be contact with Minnesota guard Trenton Hassell -- missed the rim.
Though many television viewers east of the Mississippi river were in a deep sleep when the game ended just past 2 a.m. Eastern time, the atmosphere inside Arco, in which finger-crossed anticipation and waiting-to-exhale jubilation turned into gut-wrenching disappointment was almost surreal.
"It's difficult. It's painful," Kings guard Doug Christie (24 points, 12 rebounds) said. "But you have to accept it and you have to deal with it."
Though it's too hard to gauge how both teams will respond for Wednesday's fourth game of this best-of-seven series, it would be safe to assume that it could be another thriller between teams that just played their fifth overtime game in the past two seasons and have had these three playoff games decided by a total of 11 points.
Minnesota is riding a wave of confidence, not only because it is leading its first conference semifinal in franchise history, but because Garnett, Latrell Sprewell (25 points) and key reserves Hassell (16 points) and Fred Hoiberg (14 points) fought through a near-crushing collapse to win in overtime without point guard Sam Cassell on the floor. Cassell, who had been the Timberwolves' catalyst the first two games of this series, fouled out just before the end of regulation with just nine points and four assists.
Sacramento's state could be more intriguing. It rarely loses at home but of its eight losses at Arco this season, three have been to the Timberwolves.
Still, the Kings did not give up when they appeared to be finished, entering the fourth quarter trailing by 10 points.
"I think both teams are so close," Kings Coach Rick Adelman said. "Every game has been almost the same thing. It comes down to which team shoots better."