Spree delivers, KG quiet, Sam I Am hurting

Updated: May 22, 2004, 11:34 AM ET
Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS -- The offseason acquisitions of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell gave Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves the talent they needed to make the Western Conference finals.

Sprewell was the only one who made a sizable contribution, though, in Friday's Game 1 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Garnett was quiet down the stretch, while Cassell was resting his ailing back on the bench.

"Sprewell carried them," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He just outran us. He simply did it on his own energy."

Playing his aggressive, slashing style, Sprewell led Minnesota with 23 points in the 97-88 defeat. Scoring their first seven points of the second half, Sprewell gave the Timberwolves the spark they needed on offense and provided consistent pressure on the defensive end -- whether he was guarding Devean George or Kobe Bryant.

But Garnett, the league MVP who just two nights ago carried Minnesota to a Game 7 victory over the Sacramento Kings with 14 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, was missing his usual intensity while the Lakers ran defenders at him from all over the court.

"They were banging him a lot, so maybe he got tired," said teammate Trenton Hassell. "But he played hard."

Garnett went 7-for-15 from the field for 16 points to go with 10 rebounds and four turnovers.

"He had good energy," Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said. "They attacked him. As the game went on, he saw where the traps were coming from and made passes that led to easy baskets."

In the fourth quarter, Garnett was 2-for-6.

"I have to figure out a way to be more aggressive," he said. "Fatigue is not an issue here. This is the Western Conference finals. Either you suck it up or go home."

The Wolves probably could've survived if Cassell was in form. But the 34-year-old point guard was just in too much pain. He hobbled his way to 16 points on 5-for-14 shooting and sat the entire final period. He said he landed awkwardly on his back in the third, which sent his injury back to "square one."

"Sam did what he could," Saunders said. "He was really struggling."

Cassell missed some open shots he usually makes, and Derek Fisher exploited his defense in a crucial stretch late in the third quarter after Michael Olowokandi tied the game at 67 with a pair of foul shots.

Fisher hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Lakers up by six. Saunders put Fred Hoiberg in for Cassell, and Fisher closed the period with another long jumper to finish off an 11-0 run that made it 78-67.

"I just do what I can do," Cassell said. "That's all I could give my ballclub. They understand."

Sprewell made a nifty layup with his left hand to cut the Lakers' lead to 88-86 with 4:02 left, but George threw a thunderous dunk down over Wally Szczerbiak and Karl Malone made a jumper over Garnett to push the lead to six with 2:57 remaining.

Sprewell, who averaged 25 points in four regular-season games against Los Angeles, had six rebounds and five assists. He knows he can't do it alone.

"Sam is such a big part of the things we do," Sprewell said. "When he's not out there, it does make it difficult."

Olowokandi was one of the other bright spots for the Wolves. After totaling only three minutes and three turnovers over the final four games of the Sacramento series, he didn't back down from O'Neal and had 10 points and 11 rebounds.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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