SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Two of the NBA's better finesse teams are suddenly pushing, elbowing and even throwing punches at each other.
The Sacramento Kings' 104-87 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday in the Western Conference semifinals included a brief battle between two friends and former teammates, Minnesota's Kevin Garnett and Sacramento's Anthony Peeler. That followed a confrontation in the previous game that resulted in ejections for the Kings' Brad Miller and the Timberwolves' Darrick Martin.
With the series now tied 3-3, players said to expect more aggressive play during the deciding game 7 Wednesday in Minnesota.
On Sunday, Garnett and Peeler traded blows with 13.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
Garnett was called for his fifth foul when he elbowed Peeler in what was ruled a flagrant foul. Peeler retaliated with a forearm to Garnett's face and was ejected. Peeler might have to sit out Game 7 if he is suspended for the incident.
With Peeler gone and Garnett allowed to remain, pre-game give-away glo-sticks were thrown on the floor by boisterous Sacramento fans, ironically nearly hitting Kings Mike Bibby and Brad Miller.
"It was retaliation after he hit me with an elbow," said Peeler, who played the previous five seasons in Minnesota with Garnett. "It's always the guy who responds that is the one that gets suspended or ejected. So if I get suspended or ejected, I think he [Garnett] should as well."
Garnett, who had 19 points and 10 rebounds but committed five turnovers, said Peeler was to blame.
"I never had a chance to hit AP [Peeler] in the throat," Garnett said, referring to the way Peeler hit him. "I'm setting picks on whoever."
If Peeler does not dress for Game 7, the Kings bench would be even weaker. Last year's sixth man, Bobby Jackson, has yet to make an appearance in the playoffs. A lingering abdominal strain makes him doubtful for the final game of the series.
However, the Kings might have found a suitable replacement in seldom-used Rodney Buford. Through five games, his only action was two meaningless minutes late in Friday night's loss in Minnesota, yet Buford gave Sacramento a huge lift in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Buford's first shot was a successful 3-pointer from the corner, and he eventually was 3-of-5 from the field. He finished with seven points.
"It was on after that 3-pointer, it got me rolling," Buford said. "It's unfortunate what happened to Anthony, but I was ready."
The Kings gained some confidence, finally running their offense successfully after shooting 40 percent through the first five games.
"We've played them six times, we know all the ins and outs," said Minnesota's Wally Szczerbiak. "We have to make shots and also do the dirty work. They did the dirty work by banging us on the boards and really getting out and running the pick and roll."
Players said the dirty work isn't likely to stop.
"We're responding to what they do," Miller said. "They have a couple of guys who are grabbing and holding people."
The Timberwolves' Sam Cassell, a veteran of the playoff wars who has been part of two NBA championships, believes it will be more of the same in Game 7.
"The technical I got was nonsense," said Cassell, who fouled out late in the game Sunday with 16 points. "But that's how it's going to be, man. That's playoff basketball, nothing more, nothing less. You'll see us coming out aggressive, driving the ball to the basket Wednesday."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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