MINNEAPOLIS -- They really love their hockey in these parts, so it's no surprise that the sold-out crowd at the Target Center relished every cross check and two-hand slash Sunday night when the game got out of hand.
Too bad the rough stuff took place on the hardwood, not an ice surface.
"It's just guys beating each other to the punch," said Timberwolves point guard Darrick Martin, no pun intended. "It's just playoff basketball."
Very little basketball was being played -- at least of the clean variety -- toward the end of Minnesota's 89-71 victory over a Lakers team that lost its cool when it was clear Game 2 and a chance for a series sweep in Los Angeles had slipped away.
In the last 8:28, seven technical fouls were called, including three double technicals for mano-a-mano confrontations. Also, one forearm shiver was thrown by a future Hall of Famer, resulting in one backup point guard getting floored.
To get even at 1-1, the Wolves felt they had to be aggressive after getting pushed around by Shaquille O'Neal in a 97-88 Game 1 loss. Phil Jackson cited Minnesota, with the ratcheting up of its intensity, as the team that essentially threw the first elbow.
"Minnesota knocked us down," Jackson said, "and we just have to do the same thing."
"I think it's only the beginning," Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. "When you play a team two times in three days, you start to not like each other.
"I thought we went out and did our things within the realm of what's allowed. We play hard, not dirty."
It'll be up to league disciplinarian Stu Jackson to determine if Karl Malone's decking of Martin, with the Lakers down 87-69 and just 2:43 remaining, was done with bad intentions. Malone was ejected with the flagrant foul -- his second technical -- which could earn him an untimely suspension for Tuesday's Game 3. Remember, Kobe Bryant is already expected to miss a part of Thursday's Game 4 due to another pretrial hearing in Colorado.
"They were setting back-picks all night for Garnett, and I guess Karl just got tired of that and Karl just got mad," Jackson explained. "It wasn't malicious, but Karl did it and now he has to suffer the consequences."
"Maybe I was a little testy," Malone said. "And maybe it spread throughout the team."
Martin, who coolly handled the massive job of replacing All-Star point guard Sam Cassell, was just as calm afterward in explaining why things had gotten so physical. He understood Malone's message.
"It just lets you know that every night is going to be very competitive," Martin said. "Guys want to win on both teams, and it's going to be physical. That's all."
The chippiness (hockey term) began with 8:28 to play when O'Neal, irked by the Wolves' hacking and his ineffective 14-point night on 4-for-10 shooting, annoyingly threw Mark Madsen's hand off of him. Minnesota's Gary Trent stuck up for the ex-Laker Madsen.
"He pushed Mark and I pushed him (O'Neal). That was it," Trent said. Nicknamed the "Shaq of the MAC" at the University of Ohio, Trent didn't back down from the real thing. "Be scared for what? For what? Be afraid of him?" Trent added. "Everybody pumps blood and everybody can die."
After Slava Medvedenko got a T for arguing a call, double technicals were called two more times, on Ervin Johnson and Malone with 4:15 to play and on Wally Szczerbiak and Gary Payton just 36 seconds later.
"Our goal was to win a basketball game," Madsen said. "Anything else, that's on the side. We're going to keep that on the side."
"It was just a physical game -- Western Conference finals, playing for huge stakes," Bryant said. "Sometimes guys get after it, and it is what it is. I don't think there was anything overboard. It was just a highly contested ballgame."
Joe Lago is the NBA editor at ESPN.com.