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Garnett, Sprewell Do All They Can

June 01, 2004|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The Big Three played again as only the Big Two, Kevin Garnett and Latrell Sprewell unable to compensate for the loss of Sam Cassell, but not for a lack of trying.

Sprewell scored 27 points and pushed the Lakers from worried to extremely worried for a few minutes, and Garnett had 22 points, continuing to function as one of the few power forward-point guards in league history.

That the Timberwolves were eliminated by the Lakers, 96-90, in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals had less to do with the Big Two than anything else.

Perhaps Timberwolf Coach Flip Saunders put it best, grouping Garnett and Sprewell together in elite company.

"Shaq, KG, Spree, Gary Payton, Kobe and Malone might be six of the most competitive players that have played this game," Saunders said. "And I think that's what made this series enjoyable to watch."

Garnett had already shed a litany of labels, taking the Timberwolves past the first round for the first time in eight tries, then taking them to their first Game 7 victory with a 32-point, 21-rebound effort in the conference semifinals against the Sacramento Kings.

With Cassell out because of back spasms and a sore hip, Garnett had to elevate again.

In the two games the Timberwolves won, while Cassell played a combined 43 seconds, Garnett averaged 27 points and 15 rebounds. He averaged more than 44 minutes in the series.

"Most of the time, coaches, when they're critical of players, they're critical because the guy's selfish or he's not playing hard," Saunders said. "Well, those are his two qualities that he does every night. I yell at him because he's too unselfish, that he needs to sometimes take more shots.

"There's times I've got to pull him out of practice because he doesn't want to come out."

Sprewell hoped he had left these types of losses behind him in 1999, after the New York Knicks fell to the San Antonio Spurs in five games in the NBA Finals.

Only 28 at the time, Sprewell averaged a team-high 26 points against the Spurs, including a 35-point effort in Game 5 that ended badly for him. With time running out, he missed a potential game-winning jumper. The miss gave the Spurs the victory and the championship.

Sprewell, 33, wanted another shot at a championship ring. He played in all 82 regular-season games and all 18 of the Timberwolves' playoff games.

"We took a step in the right direction," he said Monday, as if it hurt to spit out the cliche. "Getting past the first two rounds and into the Western Conference finals is something to be proud of, but obviously I'm sure we want to go further.

"For 100 games now, every night, we gave ourselves a shot at winning. There weren't too many games where we got blown out. I think that's why we were able to go as far as we did."

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