Foul troubles create unlikely stars

Updated: June 1, 2004, 1:44 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- With four superstars and super sub Derek Fisher as his Los Angeles Lakers teammates, Kareem Rush usually doesn't get a lot of playing time.

He did Monday night, and picked an ideal time to play the best game of his two-year NBA career.

Rush scored nine of his career playoff-high 18 points in the fourth quarter on three 3-pointers, and fellow reserve Stanislav Medvedenko added three baskets in the final period as the Lakers pulled away to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 96-90.

The victory enabled the Lakers to win the Western Conference finals 4-2 and earn their fourth NBA Finals berth in five years.

Rush and Medvedenko were unlikely heroes. But with Shaquille O'Neal hampered by foul trouble and Kobe Bryant not playing his typical game, the Lakers needed someone to provide some scoring punch down the stretch.

Future Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton weren't the answer, and neither was Fisher. So it was left to Rush and Medvedenko.

"He shot the ball very well. He's one of the key reasons we won the game," O'Neal said of Rush, a first-round draft pick in 2002. "He's one of the best shooters on this team. I'm always on him -- he responds well. I didn't have to get on him much tonight."

Rush, who played 23 minutes including the entire fourth quarter, made his first six 3-pointers before finally missing from long range. He missed his only shot from inside the arc, and had three rebounds and three assists.

"After I hit my first one, I knew it was going to be a good night," Rush said. "They just kept going in for me. Guys were looking for me. Shots were there, and I just continued to take them. Tonight was one of those nights where you think every one is going to go in."

And just about every one did.

"Kareem -- he has a lot of confidence," Bryant said.

Medvedenko made four shots without a miss for eight points while playing seven minutes -- five in the final period.

Rush scored a total of only 11 points in the first five games of the conference finals while playing an average of 12.2 minutes per game. He was averaging only 2.9 points per game in the playoffs.

"I just stayed ready," he said. "I know I didn't get a lot of playing time this series. You know, you've just got to take it for what it is. Guys have been playing well. Fisher has been stepping up. He's been getting the majority of the minutes toward the end. They went small, and Coach threw me in."

Rush's first 3-pointer of the fourth quarter snapped a 68-all tie and put the Lakers ahead for good.

A three-point play by Mark Madsen with 4:13 remaining moved the Timberwolves within five points, but a basket by Medvedenko and a 3-pointer by Rush made it 89-79 with 3:22 left.

The Timberwolves didn't pose a serious threat after that.

O'Neal led the Lakers with 25 points and 11 rebounds despite picking up four fouls in the first half, but was just 7-of-20 from the foul line and played only five minutes in the fourth quarter.

Bryant shot just 6-of-17 while scoring 20 points.

O'Neal picked up his fifth foul with 8:59 left and the Lakers leading 75-72. He asked to be taken out for the first time in the second half less than a minute later.

He came back with 4:56 left, but didn't stay long. With Rush and Medvedenko hitting their shots, it didn't matter.

"Kareem was obviously the story of the game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He played a game of a career, obviously. We know a lot about his as a shooter. I'm sure not too many people know of that ability that he has. So we encouraged the ballplayers to get the ball to him."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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