Thanks in large part to new coach Kevin McHale, the Minnesota
Timberwolves have their swagger back.
"We are playing with a lot more confidence," Szczerbiak said.
"There's no question about that."
Led by Szczerbiak, the Timberwolves' bench players outscored
Cleveland's backups 55-6, which was enough to hold off Cleveland's
All-Star tandem of LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas and give
McHale his second straight win.
James had 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, but was
helped to the locker room early in the fourth quarter while
battling exhaustion from being ill. After getting fluids in the
locker room, James returned to the court with just over 4 minutes
to play and had to drop to his knees in the huddle during a
James did not address the media after the game and a Cavs
spokesman said he was being treated for the flu.
"We didn't know what was wrong with him," Ilgauskas said. "So
we were concerned at first. When he came back, it was a relief."
Jeff McInnis did his best to fill in, hitting two big jumpers
off drives to the basket that gave Cleveland an 81-79 lead with
4:30 to play.
The Timberwolves responded with an 11-2 run. Garnett hit a layup
and jumper, Szczerbiak added a jumper of his own and Garnett was
able to slither in for an offensive rebound off a missed free throw
from Eddie Griffin that led to a 90-83 advantage with 1:27 to play.
James scored six more points after returning to the court, but
Griffin sealed the win when he took a no-look pass from Garnett and
made a reverse layup with 23 seconds to go.
"I bobbled the ball a little bit," Garnett said. "I just
looked down and saw his Nikes and I flicked it to him."
Garnett was the only Wolves starter in double figures, but he
had plenty of help.
Fred Hoiberg added 13 points and fellow reserve Griffin finished
with nine points, 10 rebounds and four blocks to lead the balanced
"Our bench just killed them," Szczerbiak said.
Ilgauskas had 24 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, McInnis
had 17 points and seven assists and Gooden added 12 points and 10
boards for Cleveland.
"Really good teams that go deep in the playoffs win games like
that and we haven't," Ilgauskas said.
In McHale's three games as coach, the Timberwolves are 2-1 and
have started to display the hustle, determination and teamwork that
were so integral to their run to the Western Conference finals last
"They're playing a lot different," McInnis said. "They are
taking on McHale's personality and playing a lot harder."
During one exchange in the second quarter, the Timberwolves
blocked two shots down low before Anthony Carter tipped away the
loose ball, fought with Eric Snow to get to it first, then pushed
it ahead to a streaking Hoiberg for an easy layup.
It was a huge step in the right direction for a Minnesota team
that has so often been uninspiring during a disappointing first
half of the season that ultimately resulted in longtime coach Flip
"We fought hard," McHale said. "We can go through some dry
spells on offense when you're kicking rear ends on defense. That's
the way you have to play."
Since reluctantly taking over for his old college buddy, McHale
has preached effort and pleaded for his players to contest shots
and dominate the paint.
The message has definitely hit home.
Minnesota outrebounded Cleveland 47-37, blocked a season-high 14
shots and outscored the Cavs 36-30 in the paint.
"We were getting outplayed in a lot of games and most of it was
because of effort," Hoiberg said. "With Kevin here now, he's not
going to allow that to happen."
Cleveland coach Paul Silas on James' flirtation with the
slam dunk contest: "If I had my druthers, he'd sit that one out,
but it's not up to me." ... Carter drained a 31-footer to beat the
buzzer at the end of the first quarter. He then had a 57-foot heave
rattle in and out at the end of the third. ... The Timberwolves'
bench outscored their Cleveland counterparts 32-0 in the first
half. ... Ilgauskas got a technical at 10:04 of the fourth for
pleading for a foul call.