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Shaq once again responds to the challenge

4/28/2003

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Shaquille O'Neal had a simple plan to keep
the Lakers from being on the brink of elimination: Just get him the
ball.

"I told the guys before the game, get me the ball and move out
of the way,'' he said. "I've just got to have the ball in a
position where I can do something. As soon as I'm open, I would
like to have it.''

He got it -- from his teammates and off the boards -- and that was
the difference Sunday as Los Angeles rallied for a 102-97 victory
over the Minnesota Timberwolves to even their first-round playoff
series 2-2.

O'Neal had 34 points, 23 rebounds and six assists for the
three-time defending champions, who won by outscoring the
Timberwolves 22-11 in the last seven minutes.

Minnesota didn't make a field goal in a span of 5:18 while
falling behind for good, and Kevin Garnett missed two free throws
with 15 seconds remaining and a chance to pull the Timberwolves
within one.

"This was a game that we had to have,'' O'Neal said. "We did
what we're supposed to do.''

When asked why he didn't get the ball more often, O'Neal
replied: "I don't have any ... idea. I would like to get the ball
every ... time. I shouldn't have to say it.''

Game 5 will be played Tuesday night at Target Center, where the
teams split the first two games of the series. Game 6 is Thursday
night at Staples Center.

O'Neal grabbed 10 of the Lakers' 18 offensive rebounds to help
them to a 29-2 advantage in second-chance points.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson and teammate Kobe Bryant challenged
O'Neal to be more physical, and the self-proclaimed MDE -- most
dominant ever -- did just that.

"Shaq was extremely aggressive -- he had by far his best game of
the whole series,'' Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said.

Regarding his dominance on the boards, O'Neal said: "I was just
there, trying to get all the loose balls, trying to get the tips,
trying to do my part.''

He did his part, and more.

Bryant added 32 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter,
despite shooting 7-of-25. He was 16-of-17 from the foul line,
making four free throws without a miss in the last 12.8 seconds to
clinch the victory.

"This is typical playoff basketball,'' Bryant said. "You just
have to do whatever it takes to win the ballgame.''

Garnett had 28 points, 18 rebounds and five assists, but his
missed free throws were costly.

"Total missed opportunity,'' Garnett said of the loss. "We had
them on the ropes, too. They know it.''

Troy Hudson also had 28 points, although he did not score in the
fourth quarter, missing his only two shots.

Baskets by Rod Strickland, Garnett and Anthony Peeler gave
Minnesota an 80-74 lead, and it was 86-80 following Strickland's
basket with 7:32 remaining.

But the Lakers fought back, and a jumper by Devean George with
4:40 to play gave them an 88-87 lead -- their first since the second
quarter.

They were on top the rest of the way.

George made a 3-pointer to make it 93-89, but Wally Szczerbiak's
3-pointer with 2:15 left made it a one-point game.

Bryant made two free throws 20 seconds later, and neither team
scored again until the Timberwolves fouled O'Neal on purpose with
50.8 seconds left.

O'Neal, who stepped to the line having made 7-of-13, made one to
give the Lakers a four-point lead.

Garnett responded by making a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left to
make it 96-95. Garnett appeared to shove George twice to get open
for his shot.

Bryant missed a driving shot, but O'Neal tipped it in with 19.1
seconds to play for a three-point lead -- setting up Garnett's two
misses.

"I messed up. I'll take them any time,'' Garnett said.

Saunders said his team's 17 turnovers and the Lakers' dominance
on the offensive boards were major factors in the outcome.

"They beat us at the things we do well,'' he said. "We're not
going to go away. It's down to a best-of-three series with two in
our place.''

Lakers coach Phil Jackson called it a survival game for his
team.

"We got second-chance points that were overwhelming,'' he said.
"That's the difference in the ballgame.''

The Timberwolves outscored the Lakers 17-7 for a 74-63 lead --
the largest of the game for either team.

The Lakers then scored the last eight points of the third
quarter, and a 3-pointer by Bryant early in the final period tied
it at 74.

The Timberwolves led at halftime 45-43 thanks to Hudson's 11
points in the last three minutes of the second quarter.

Game notes
Lakers F Rick Fox left the game with 6:37 left in the first
quarter with a strained tendon in his left ankle and didn't return.
A team spokesman said Fox would undergo an MRI early Monday before
the team flies to Minnesota. ... O'Neal was called for a flagrant
foul with 2:31 left in the third quarter for knocking Kendall Gill
to the floor. ... O'Neal had 15 points and eight rebounds in the
first eight minutes. ... Bryant picked up a technical foul in the
first 4 minutes for arguing a non-call. ... The Timberwolves shot
50.6 percent in the first three games of the series to the Lakers'
43.1 percent. Minnesota shot 43.4 percent and Los Angeles shot 39.8
percent Sunday. ... Seldom-used Lakers G Brian Shaw had 10 points
and six rebounds in 27 minutes. He had four points and two rebounds
in the first three games.