Final

Los Angeles wins series 4-2 (Game 1 of 6)

Los Angeles wins series 4-2

Game 1: Friday, May 21st
Lakers97Final
Timberwolves88
Game 2: Sunday, May 23rd
Lakers71Final
Timberwolves89
Game 3: Tuesday, May 25th
Timberwolves89Final
Lakers100
Game 4: Thursday, May 27th
Timberwolves85Final
Lakers92
Game 5: Saturday, May 29th
Lakers96Final
Timberwolves98
Game 6: Monday, May 31st
Timberwolves90Final
Lakers96

Lakers 97

(56-26, 22-19 away)

8:00 PM ET, May 21, 2004

Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

1 2 3 4 T
LAL 23 23 32 1997
MIN 24 20 23 2188

Top Performers

LAL: S. O'Neal 27 Pts, 18 Reb, 5 Ast, 4 Blk

Min: L. Sprewell 23 Pts, 6 Reb, 5 Ast

Fisher the difference-maker down the stretch

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- With five days off between playoff games, Shaquille O'Neal had time to relax, get rejuvenated -- and even read up on free-throw shooting.

That extra study time made a big difference against the weary Timberwolves in the opener of the Western Conference finals.

O'Neal had 27 points, 18 rebounds and a superb performance at the free-throw line, and Kobe Bryant added 23 points in the Los Angeles Lakers' 97-88 victory over Minnesota in Game 1 Friday night.

Executing almost flawlessly in their offensive sets, Los Angeles made just two turnovers in the second half, running the triangle offense and countless pick-and-rolls to perfection.

And when Minnesota fouled O'Neal, the 38-percent playoff foul shooter went 9-for-11. He credited his sudden proficiency to an article given to him by coach Phil Jackson -- about an 80-year-old man who made more than 3,000 straight free throws.

"I've just really been focusing on my routine," O'Neal said. "The article said that if you focus too much on the result, you fail."

Playoff excellence also is routine for the Lakers. In a workmanlike victory that ended with a 9-2 run, they showed why they're playing for their fourth conference championship in five years.

Game 2 is Sunday night. The series moves to Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Karl Malone had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who seemed unaffected by the Timberwolves or their deafening Target Center crowd enjoying the franchise's first trip to the conference finals.

The Lakers nursed a narrow lead through most of the fourth quarter until Derek Fisher, who had 14 points, made a 3-pointer from the corner with 58 seconds left, essentially clinching the win. Fisher also scored eight points in the final minutes of the third quarter to put Los Angeles ahead for good.

"We really didn't do anything special tonight," Bryant said. "We stuck to our basic defensive principles. ... Now, a good opportunity is here to go back with two wins, and we need to try hard to seize it."

Kevin Garnett had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Timberwolves, back in action two days after finishing an exhausting seven-game series against Sacramento. Latrell Sprewell had 23 points, and Sam Cassell added 16 points and eight assists despite sitting out the fourth quarter with a sore back.

Though the Lakers pointed out the Timberwolves' apparent weariness, particularly down the stretch, Garnett and Sprewell rejected that excuse. But Cassell limped back out to the court at halftime, then sat out the final 13 minutes when his back tightened up -- and the Wolves missed his offensive creativity.

"The first game is sort of a feel-out game," Sprewell said. "You're just kind of seeing what's happening out there, and we didn't make our adjustments quick enough."

The Lakers earned their fifth straight victory, and it followed much the same script as their four wins over San Antonio: good defense, proficient offense and far too much Shaq and Kobe.

Neither team took a significant lead until late in the third quarter, when Fisher's back-to-back 3-pointers were followed by another from Kareem Rush. Fisher added a jumper with 2.1 seconds left, and the Lakers went into the fourth up 78-67 while holding Minnesota without a field goal in the final 3:41.

The Timberwolves got within 88-86 on Sprewell's jumper with 4:04 left, but the Lakers rolled to the finish, starting with Devean George's electrifying one-handed dunk.

"Most of the game, we had good energy," coach Flip Saunders said. "We just had two bad stretches. When you're playing a team as good as the Lakers, you can't have those lapses."

Michael Olowokandi had 10 points and 11 rebounds while playing solid defense against O'Neal -- but even the best defense only slows the Diesel, who got plenty of good shots and set up others for his teammates by drawing a double-team.

"I'm also one of those players that probably won't be stopped," O'Neal deadpanned.

The series' biggest one-on-one matchup was a draw, because Sprewell and Bryant couldn't stop each other for even a moment. Bryant scored 14 points in the second half, while Sprewell had 18 -- both swingmen embarrassing any defender put in front of them.

Game notes


Malone wore black Dada sneakers with shiny yellow vertical stripes and the "POW-MIA" logo honoring war heroes. ... A group of workers were on strike at the Lakers' team hotel Friday, forcing the team to cross the picket line to board the bus to the Target Center. ... Cris Carter, former Raptors coach Butch Carter and Kirby Puckett were among the Minnesota sports luminaries in attendance.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press

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Team Stat Comparison

 
LAL
MIN
Points 97 88
FGM-FGA 37-78 (.474) 34-69 (.493)
3PM-3PA 6-15 (.400) 6-16 (.375)
FTM-FTA 17-23 (.739) 14-15 (.933)
Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 7-38 3-35
Assists 29 18
Turnovers 8 15
Steals 7 4
Blocks 4 3
Fast Break Points 1 3
Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 16 (0/0) 21 (0/0)

Top Performers

Los Angeles
Minnesota
Shaquille O'Neal O'Neal
Points: 27
Reb: 18
Ast: 5
Stl: 0
Blk: 4
Latrell Sprewell Sprewell
Points: 23
Reb: 6
Ast: 5
Stl: 0
Blk: 0