- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 30, 2004

MINNEAPOLIS — There is a day after tomorrow for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

After that, who knows?

The Timberwolves, written off by just about everyone, staved off elimination in the Western Conference finals last night with a 98-96 victory over the Los Angles Lakers in Game 5 at Target Center

Kevin Garnett showed up with his MVP “A” game last night and punished the Lakers with 30 points and 19 rebounds.

And, as opposed to Game 4, this time Garnett got some help.

Last night Latrell Sprewell, who struggled on Thursday when he added just 12 points to Garnett’s effort, contributed dramatically, finishing with 28 points. And reserve guard Fred Hoiberg came up big off the bench with 14 points.

“[The Lakers] came out with a lot of energy, hitting shots,” Garnett said. “We started to press the issue a little bit and then we got a little more confidence in our own shots and took them. This was one of those games where your back is against the wall and you just have to come out swinging.”

The loss ends the Lakers of 12 consecutive playoff victories in closeout games, a streak that dated back to Game 6 of the 2000 Finals. It also prevented, at least for now, the Lakers from advancing to the Finals for the fourth time in the last five seasons.

“We got a lot of huge games from a lot of guys,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “We live for another day. We got some great games from Kevin, Spree, Hoiberg. This puts some more pressure on L.A. Now we’ve got to go there and do it all over again.”

Game 6 is tomorrow in Los Angles.

The Timberwolves managed to win for the second time in this series without the services of starting point guard Sam Cassell, who watched from the bench in street clothes.

Kobe Bryant, who scored 31 points in the Lakers’ Game 4 victory — the same day he made a court appearance in an Eagle, Colo. — led Los Angeles with 23 points. Shaquille O’Neal, Derrick Fisher and Karl Malone all had 17 for the Lakers. O’Neal also pulled down 13 rebounds.

Bryant made it clear he and his teammates didn’t come out flat.

“We wanted to close Minnesota out,” Bryant said. “But you have to tip your hat to Minnesota tonight. To say that we didn’t play hard would be doing Minnesota and injustice.”

The Timberwolves took control of the game at the end of first half, when they closed with a 13-0 run. The run expanded to 17 points before the Lakers scored early in the third period.

The Lakers, who on many occasions looked as if they had never seen each before, managed to cut what was a 16-point fourth quarter lead to 86-80 with 3:20 left.

But Hoiberg converted a 3-point play with 2:29 to play, and Garnett made four straight free throws to restore the lead to 93-82 with 1:31 to play.

Saunders, frustrated by the performance of starting center Ervin Johnson’s play against O’Neal, started Michael Olowokandi at center. However, the one-time top pick in the draft was ineffective in his role as a starter, finishing with one point and seven rebounds

The Timberwolves didn’t begin the night looking like a team that needed to play with a sense of urgency.

They opened the game by making just 27 percent of their shots in the first quarter. This allowed the Lakers to take a 10-point lead on Karl Malone’s 16-footer with 2:41 left in the quarter.

Minnesota acquitted itself in the second quarter and played with substantially more energy. They opened on a 9-2 run to tie the game at 23-23 on a Sprewell basket, and they completed a 15-7 run on a fastbreak layup by Hoiberg to lead 29-28 with just over seven minutes remaining in the half.

The Lakers responded with a 10-2 run that restored their lead to 38-31 following Bryant’s 3-pointer with 4:27 remaining in the half. But the Timberwolves, who got 18 combined points from Garnett and Sprewell in the second, clamped down on the Lakers defensively.

Minnesota allowed the Lakers just one more field goal before halftime. Meanwhile, they outscored the Lakers 13-0 in the final 3:17 to take a 46-40 halftime lead.

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