Timberwolves 98, Lakers 96
-- There was no logic to thinking the Minnesota Timberwolves would extend the Western Conference finals past a fifth game -- not with the Los Angeles Lakers boasting 11 wins in their last 11 chances to close out a playoff series, and certainly not with point guard Sam Cassell watching from the sidelines in street clothes.
But these scrappy Timberwolves are still alive for two reasons -- a veteran swingman with a cocksure trigger finger and an MVP forward with the heart of a player on a 10-day contract.
And almost solely because of Latrell Sprewell and Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves beat the Lakers, 98-96, in Game 5, narrowing L.A.'s lead to 3-2. Game 6 is scheduled for Monday night at Staples Center. The loss was the Lakers' first in an elimination game since Game 5 of the 2000 NBA Finals against Indiana.
"No one wants this season to be over," Sprewell said. "We're happy with what we've accomplished, but we didn't want to go home, and I think we played that way."
The pair combined for 58 points in 90 minutes as Minnesota withstood a late charge to hang on for the win.
Garnett, the league's most valuable player, had 30 points, 19 rebounds and 4 assists, often rebounding the ball at the defensive end, bringing it up the court in Cassell's absence, and then setting himself up in the post.
"The only thing close is when Magic [Johnson] was asked to carry the Lakers against Philadelphia [in the 1980 NBA Finals]," Minnesota Coach Flip Saunders said. "He probably guarded everybody on the floor."
Garnett came out of the game for the first time with 7 minutes 43 seconds left, gasping for air on his way to the bench only to try to check back in 44 seconds later.
Saunders grabbed Garnett by the arm, and he was escorted reluctantly back to the bench.
"I told Flip, 'If you don't have to take me out, don't take me out,' " Garnett said. "Fatigue is not a word I'm ever going to use."
Sprewell scored nine straight points for Minnesota in the fourth quarter, and finished with 11 overall in the period. L.A cut the Timberwolves' lead from 16 to six with a 10-0 run, but a three-point play from Fred Hoiberg with 2:29 left put the game out of reach.
Shaquille O'Neal scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, but took just 11 shots after shooting only 10 times in Game 4. Kobe Bryant, by comparison, scored 17 in the fourth quarter on 5-of-13 shooting.
Los Angeles, it would seem, must contend with more O'Neal-Bryant bickering over who gets the ball in crunch time. O'Neal didn't show for the postgame news conference, and told one reporter, "I'm very frustrated [about not getting the ball]. That's why I'm walking away from you."
The Lakers opened on a 6-0 run and led by as many as 10 in the first quarter. The Timberwolves shot just 27 percent, and Garnett was 2 for 7 in the first quarter. At the end of the period, Los Angeles led by seven.
Minnesota opened the second quarter on a 9-2 run, tying the game on a 19-footer from Sprewell with 9:21 left. The Timberwolves took their first lead when Wally Szczerbiak's steal started a fast break that ended with a Hoiberg layup. Los Angeles regained the lead with a 12-4 run that included two Bryant three-pointers, but Minnesota caught fire in the last three minutes of the quarter.
The Timberwolves closed with an 11-0 run, taking a six-point lead on a Sprewell jumper with 22 seconds left. Bryant missed a three with six seconds left in the half, and Minnesota rode an ear-splitting ovation to the locker room.