- The Washington Times - Monday, April 28, 2003

LOS ANGELES Shaquille O'Neal had a simple plan to keep the Lakers from being on the brink of elimination: Just get him the ball.
"I told the guys before the game, get me the ball and move out of the way," he said. "I've just got to have the ball in a position where I can do something. As soon as I'm open, I would like to have it."
He got it from his teammates and off the boards and that was the difference yesterday as Los Angeles rallied for a 102-97 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves to even their first-round playoff series 2-2.
O'Neal had 34 points, 23 rebounds and six assists for the three-time defending champions, who won by outscoring the Timberwolves 22-11 in the last seven minutes.
Minnesota didn't make a field goal in a span of 5:18 while falling behind for good, and Kevin Garnett missed two free throws with 15 seconds remaining and a chance to pull the Timberwolves within one.
"This was a game that we had to have," O'Neal said. "We did what we're supposed to do."
When asked why he didn't get the ball more often, O'Neal replied: "I don't have any … idea. I would like to get the ball every … time. I shouldn't have to say it."
Game 5 will be played tomorrow night at Target Center, where the teams split the first two games of the series. Game 6 is Thursday night at Staples Center.
O'Neal grabbed 10 of the Lakers' 18 offensive rebounds to help them to a 29-2 advantage in second-chance points.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson and teammate Kobe Bryant challenged O'Neal to be more physical, and the self-proclaimed MDE most dominant ever did just that.
"Shaq was extremely aggressive he had by far his best game of the whole series," Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said.
Regarding his dominance on the boards, O'Neal said: "I was just there, trying to get all the loose balls, trying to get the tips, trying to do my part."
He did his part, and more.
Bryant added 32 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, despite shooting seven of 25. He was 16 of 17 from the foul line, making four free throws without a miss in the last 12.8 seconds to clinch the victory.
"This is typical playoff basketball," Bryant said. "You just have to do whatever it takes to win the ballgame."
Garnett had 28 points, 18 rebounds and five assists, but his missed free throws were costly.
"Total missed opportunity," Garnett said of the loss. "We had them on the ropes, too. They know it."
Troy Hudson also had 28 points, although he did not score in the fourth quarter, missing his only two shots.
Baskets by Rod Strickland, Garnett and Anthony Peeler gave Minnesota an 80-74 lead, and it was 86-80 following Strickland's basket with 7:32 remaining.
But the Lakers fought back, and a jumper by Devean George with 4:40 to play gave them an 88-87 lead their first since the second quarter.
They were on top the rest of the way.
George made a 3-pointer to make it 93-89, but Wally Szczerbiak's 3-pointer with 2:15 left made it a one-point game.
Bryant made two free throws 20 seconds later, and neither team scored again until the Timberwolves fouled O'Neal on purpose with 50.8 seconds left.
O'Neal, who stepped to the line having made seven of 13, made one to give the Lakers a four-point lead.
Garnett responded by making a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left to make it 96-95. Garnett appeared to shove George twice to get open for his shot.
Bryant missed a driving shot, but O'Neal tipped it in with 19.1 seconds to play for a three-point lead setting up Garnett's two misses.
"I messed up. I'll take them any time," Garnett said.
Saunders said his team's 17 turnovers and the Lakers' dominance on the offensive boards were major factors in the outcome.
"They beat us at the things we do well," he said. "We're not going to go away. It's down to a best-of-3 series with two in our place."
Jackson called it a survival game for his team.
"We got second-chance points that were overwhelming," he said. "That's the difference in the ballgame."
The Timberwolves outscored the Lakers 17-7 for a 74-63 lead the largest of the game for either team.
The Lakers then scored the last eight points of the third quarter, and a 3-pointer by Bryant early in the final period tied it at 74.
The Timberwolves led at halftime 45-43 thanks to Hudson's 11 points in the last three minutes of the second quarter.
Lakers forward Rick Fox left the game with 6:37 left in the first quarter with a strained tendon in his left ankle and didn't return. … O'Neal was called for a flagrant foul with 2:31 left in the third quarter for knocking Kendall Gill to the floor.

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