Injury lack of depth hurts Minnesota

Updated: June 1, 2004, 1:47 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Minnesota's Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell played at least as well as Los Angeles' Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant.

It was the rest of the Timberwolves who weren't able to match up -- even with the likes of Kareem Rush and Stanislav Medvedenko -- in a 96-90 Game 6 loss to the Lakers that ended Minnesota's most successful season in the Western Conference final.

Kevin Garnett
APKevin Garnett fouled out after scoring 22 points and grabbing 17 rebounds.

Before this season, the Timberwolves had never made it past the first round of the playoffs. But even facing elimination on the road against the loaded Lakers, Minnesota remained competitive.

The Timberwolves led 68-67 going into the fourth quarter of Game 6.

"We're going to relive that fourth quarter the whole summer." Wally Szczerbiak said.

The absence of injured point guard Sam Cassell and backup Troy Hudson cost them scoring and floor leadership, and stretched their depth. The Timberwolves simply couldn't keep pressure on all the Lakers all the time.

"I told the team that I thought we had a good series," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "It could have been a great series if we'd have had one of our other point guards, from a depth standpoint."

Saunders feels certain the Timberwolves will be hungry next season.

"Now that you get a taste of it, you want it that much more," he said.

Garnett had 22 points and 17 rebounds, and Sprewell scored 27 points in Game 6. O'Neal had 25 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles and Bryant had 20 points.

But Lakers reserve Rush, often left unguarded, scored 18 points on 6-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, and Medvedenko had eight points and several key baskets down the stretch as the Lakers took control.

"The fact that we didn't have our general (Cassell) out there with us, guys were asked to do things that they don't normally do," Garnett said. "But we all stepped up and took responsibility and ran with it.

"We still had a chance to win."

Garnett, guarded by Karl Malone and frequently double-teammed, looked frustrated at times, and on several occasions held the ball until a defender slapped it away from him.

The MVP finished with eight turnovers, and he was in foul trouble much of the game. He played only seven minutes and scored one point in the first quarter after picking up two quick fouls, and Minnesota trailed 28-17 at the end of the period.

"I felt like I left Spree (Sprewell) out there by himself. Sam's already out, so I felt like I let Spree down a little bit," he said.

By the time Garnett fouled out, it really didn't matter; there were only 20 seconds left in the game and the Lakers were in command.

Cassell has been unable to play because of back spasms caused by inflammation in his left hip. Minnesota already was thin at point guard coming into the playoffs with Hudson having season-ending ankle surgery on April 26.

Garnett said making it to the conference finals doesn't mean much, "If you don't win it all."

Then he added, "I'm a person who always tries to grab a positive; this is a nice foundation for the future, and now we just have to add a couple more pieces and the team will move on."


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE