MINNEAPOLIS — Remember when everyone was celebrating the greatness of the Los Angeles Lakers? Yes, that was Saturday.
They weren’t Sunday as the Minnesota Timberwolves dominated them in an 89-71 victory that evened the Western Conference finals at 1-1 and equaled the Lakers’ franchise low for scoring in a playoff game. Game 3 is Tuesday in Los Angeles.
“All we’ve done now is make it a series,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said.
It may be a series, but it doesn’t look like it will be fun. The teams combined for three fourth-quarter double technical fouls on pushing-and-shoving incidents and Karl Malone was ejected for a flagrant foul, all with the Lakers trailing by nearly 20 points.
“It’s just the beginning,” Saunders said. “Teams play each other twice in three days, they start not liking one another.”
Sore losers? Guys were sore, that’s for sure.
Including Shaquille O’Neal, who had 14 points and reverted to his poor free-throw shooting with just 6 of 14 at the line. Kobe Bryant had 27 points as the only other Laker in double figures. For Minnesota, Kevin Garnett had 24 points and Darrick Martin came off the bench for the injured Sam Cassell and had 15 points and six assists.
“We had to find a way to play harder than L.A.,” Saunders said.
That the Timberwolves did, pushing aggressively on the perimeter to deny the Lakers’ easy entry passes to O’Neal and setting punishing back picks that stood up Lakers defenders.
“They beat us to the punch,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson noted in what could become a warning for Game 3. “They came out swinging and got us on the ropes with their aggressiveness. I don’t think we expected them to come out with as much bravado. They were setting some back picks and knocking down guys. We got tired of that stuff.”
Now the question is whether the Lakers will be teetering.
As for Cassell that was a heck of a 43 seconds.
“I thanked Sam for giving us a great 45 seconds,” Saunders joked.
It was the time Cassell played to open the game before returning to the locker room for treatment on his hip and back problems.
The first time Gary Payton got the ball against a hobbling Cassell, Payton accelerated and Cassell hugged him from behind. Saunders immediately signaled for little-used reserve Martin.
But it was a fortuitous second quick foul against Trenton Hassell that ignited the Timberwolves.
It forced Saunders to bring in Wally Szczerbiak, whose quick shooting burst fueled a flat Timberwolves offense to a 32-24 lead after one quarter.
Happenstance, like Hassell’s foul trouble, worked in Minnesota’s favor. But the Timberwolves also created their own good fortune with effort. It didn’t help the Lakers when Malone drew his third foul running down Fred Hoiberg early in the second quarter. That led to an ineffective parade of substitutes, like Luke Walton, Slava Medvedenko and Brian Cook. With all offensively challenged, Garnett was able to sink in and help on O’Neal.
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