MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Kevin Garnett jumped atop the scorer's table
and made a huge footprint in the chalk dust before saluting a
screaming sellout crowd.
The league's MVP left his mark all over this game, too, putting
the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference finals with
one of the greatest performances of his career.
Garnett had 32 points, 21 rebounds and five blocks on his 28th
birthday, and the Timberwolves held on to beat the Sacramento Kings
83-80 Wednesday night in Game 7 of their semifinal series.
"I felt like I had to be the example to everybody," Garnett
The victory wasn't assured until Chris Webber's 3-point attempt
spun around the rim and out as the final buzzer sounded, giving
star-crossed Sacramento a Game 7 playoff loss for a third straight
"I definitely thought the last shot was good," Webber said.
"It did everything but go in."
Minnesota will host the Los Angeles Lakers, who have been idle
since Saturday, in Game 1 of the conference finals Friday night.
With the Timberwolves clinging to a three-point lead, the Kings
had a final possession to tie. Doug Christie's off-balance
3-pointer was an airball, and Brad Miller's layup attempt off the
rebound was blocked by Garnett into the seats near Sacramento
co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof.
The Kings got another inbounds pass with 2.2 seconds remaining.
Webber pump-faked Garnett in the air and got a clean look as
Garnett avoided contact.
"I thought it was going down," coach Rick Adelman said. "But
it just didn't happen."
Webber, who had 16 points, collapsed to his knees in
disappointment after Sacramento failed again, just as the Kings did
against Lakers in 2002 and last year against Dallas.
"I've had some real special presents on my birthday, but
nothing like this," said Garnett, who hugged Webber before going
"K.G. is probably my favorite player in the league," said
Webber, whose readjustment to his team was a struggle after he
returned from a knee injury in early March. "I love going against
him. He told me to get healthy, keep my head up."
Christie, Sacramento's sixth-leading scorer during the season,
had 21 points as his team's unlikely leader. Mike Bibby added 15
points, and Miller had 11.
"We just kept fighting, man," Miller said. "I think that's
what it's all about."
The Kings, who trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, were
down only four when Garnett delivered a big blow. As the shot clock
ran down, he hit a 3-pointer over Miller and Bibby to make it 77-70
Minnesota with 3:39 remaining.
Sacramento cut a nine-point deficit to four, 79-75, when Bibby
made a 3-pointer in the corner with 1:40 left. After Garnett threw
the ball out of bounds, the Kings missed a chance to cut it to two
when Webber missed a wide-open layup with one minute to go.
Still down by four, they blew another opportunity when Garnett
stole the ball from Miller and made one of two foul shots with 31.1
Bibby hit a pair of free throws, cutting it to 80-77, but
Sprewell made one of two to make it a four-point game. Christie's
3-pointer with 16.8 seconds on the clock sliced the lead to one,
and Cassell sank both of his foul shots to make it 83-80.
A day after apologizing for war-weapon metaphors he used to
describe his mindset, Garnett played his usual high-energy game at
both ends of the court on the biggest night in the franchise's 15
"Seven games a lot of times define who you are, and a lot of
times the bigger the game the bigger the guy who steps up," Wolves
coach Flip Saunders said.
After seven straight first-round losses, Garnett is finally
having a positive postseason experience -- but he couldn't have done
it without his teammates.
Cassell, who had 40 points in Game 1 but just 62 over the last
five, had 11 points in the first quarter and went 10-for-11 from
the line despite grimacing every time he ran up and down the court.
Szczerbiak used a six-inch advantage on Bibby to score all 10 of
his points in the second quarter. He turned three offensive
rebounds into baskets.
Minnesota was especially sharp on defense. Sacramento's offense
never found its rhythm. Webber went 8-for-17 for 16 points, Peja
Stojakovic shot 3-for-12 and Bibby was just 4-for-13. The Kings
missed nine of their 17 free throw attempts, too.
Sacramento took its first lead, 58-57, on Webber's jumper with
1:55 left in the third quarter. It didn't last long: Cassell's
3-pointer with 33.9 seconds remaining put Minnesota back in front,
Garnett ensured a spot on the highlights during a defensive
sequence early in the second quarter. Christie missed a layup,
Stojakovic grabbed it and put up a withering shot of his own.
Garnett jumped high to block it, grabbed it with one hand, cradled
it under his wrist and landed on the floor in one smooth motion.
... The last Game 7 victory in Kings franchise history was 1981,
when Kansas City beat Phoenix in the conference semifinals.