So when Cassell's aching back limited him to a token appearance
in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Kevin Garnett raised
his voice, Darrick Martin raised his game -- and when the Lakers
raised their dukes, Minnesota kept its cool.
Garnett had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Martin scored 15
points in place of Cassell, leading the Timberwolves to a 89-71
victory over Los Angeles on Sunday night.
Latrell Sprewell scored 17 points and Wally Szczerbiak had 16,
but the Wolves needed an impressive group effort to even the series
in a game dominated by good defense and bad feelings -- including
seven technical fouls and several trash-talking staredowns in the
Martin -- a nine-year journeyman signed out of the CBA during the
regular season -- played 36 minutes when Cassell's back tightened up
after just 43 seconds of play. Martin had a few regrettable shots,
but he made no turnovers and got six assists -- and he even got
flattened by Karl Malone, who was ejected for a flagrant foul.
"That was a great time for me," Martin said. "We knew it had
to be a group effort. Everybody picked up their games. KG handled
the ball, Latrell was more aggressive, and I tried not to make any
Though the statistic says more about the Lakers' apparent
boredom than Martin's excellence, he outscored Los Angeles' entire
frontcourt in the first half. He scored on a wild fling at the hoop
shortly before halftime -- and he even got cocky, glaring at the
Lakers' bench after making a 3-pointer with 3:02 to play.
Garnett did the rest, scoring 14 points in the second half.
"We didn't have a choice," Garnett said of Minnesota's superb
team play. "Our general was out. We just kind of looked at
ourselves and said ... 'OK, it's up to us now."
Garnett closed the third quarter with a 3-pointer that helped
Minnesota hold off a one-man rally by Kobe Bryant, who scored 27
points and briefly roused the Lakers from their game-long slumber.
It wasn't nearly enough, and the Lakers matched the lowest-scoring
playoff game in franchise history while making less than 37 percent
of their shots.
Malone acknowledged he lost his head when he threw a shoulder
into Martin with 2:31 left, but it only added spice to a series
that appeared to be a bit one-sided after the Lakers' victory in
Game 1. Instead, the teams are tied heading to Game 3 in Los
Angeles on Tuesday night.
"We didn't handle that situation good," said Malone, who had
just five points while battling constant foul trouble. "Give them
credit. They kept their composure and won the game."
"You have to anticipate every series being physical at some
point," Garnett said. "It's no big deal. We can handle
Cassell's back has bothered him since early in the playoffs, and
he had trouble even walking without pain before Game 2. He returned
to the Timberwolves' bench in the closing minutes, exhorting his
teammates in his typically theatrical fashion.
"I'm going," Cassell said of Game 3. "I'll be on the court
more than 43 seconds, I promise."
The Lakers trailed 58-40 early in the third before Bryant scored
six straight points, hitting jumpers and making big defensive
plays. Los Angeles got within seven points moments later, but
Minnesota made an 11-3 run and never was threatened in the fourth.
First-half foul trouble was responsible for a series of
unorthodox lineups for the Lakers, with 11 players seeing action --
including seldom-used rookies Brian Cook and Luke Walton. The
Timberwolves used their entire roster in the first half, sending
four big men against O'Neal and fouling frequently.
"We weren't desperate. They were," Bryant said. "They played
harder. We didn't match their intensity. We'll have to live with
Minnesota's reserves outscored the Lakers' 41-14 -- but
Szczerbiak and Martin played starters' minutes in the backcourt in
place of Cassell and Trenton Hassell. Szczerbiak also had seven
assists in his most impressive performance of an injury-plagued
Minnesota's victory guaranteed Game 5 will be played back
at the Target Center on Saturday. ... Gary Payton hit two
3-pointers but had just eight points for the Lakers. ... Los
Angeles coach Phil Jackson nearly got the eighth technical foul of
the fourth quarter, but the officials reconsidered.