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They Lose Game but Not Swagger

St. Paul Pioneer Press

The Timberwolves blew an 11-point lead, and that’s never a good thing. They scored only three field goals in the final 7 1/2 minutes of the game. That’s not good, either. They also had a puny number of offensive rebounds and were the victim of more steals than Saks Fifth Avenue when Winona Ryder went on her shoplifting spree. Plenty of things went wrong for the Timberwolves on Sunday.

And still ...

It’s far from the end of the world, or the end of their seven-game series with the Lakers.

“Listen,” Timberwolf Coach Flip Saunders was saying, “we’re not going back home with our tail between our legs feeling bad.”

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That’s the most important thing the Timberwolves can take away from their 102-97 loss to the Lakers. They have to, as Bing Crosby once crooned, accentuate the positive. They leave Los Angeles with a split and the series tied, 2-2. And if it goes the distance, two of the next three games will be played at Target Center.

“L.A. knows we’re not going away,” Saunders said. “We’re in for the long haul. Going into the series, if anyone told us we’d be 2-2 going back to Minnesota, I would’ve said we’d be more than happy to do that.”

In Games 2 and 3, the Timberwolves trampled the Lakers’ mystique. They stomped on it some more in Game 4, just not long enough. They didn’t lose Sunday because they were back to being intimidated, which was the case in Game 1. They lost because they became the gang that couldn’t shoot straight down the stretch.

It didn’t help that the Lakers began making baskets and free throws with a regularity that wasn’t there during long stretches ever since Game 1.

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Out here in the land of implants and injections, there was nothing artificial about what the Lakers did. They did what three-time defending champions do: refused to keel over and let the coffin lid shut.

“We just have to do whatever it takes to win the ballgame,” Kobe Bryant said.

What it took Sunday was getting the ball to Shaquille O’Neal. Early and often.

“I told the guys before the game, ‘Get me the ball and move out of the way,’ ” O’Neal said. “That’s what they did, and I set the tone, and we picked it up.”

The way O’Neal was bullying his way in for dunks and rebounds in the first quarter, it looked as if the Timberwolves could be in a heap of misery. And still ...

It was a five-point game and could have been even closer if Kevin Garnett hadn’t missed two free throws with 15.7 seconds left.

“It humbles you very quick,” Garnett said of the missed foul shots. “It felt good coming off my hand. I don’t know. I missed them.”

Though the foul shots were missed, Garnett doesn’t believe the opportunity to put away the Lakers will be.

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“We think we can win this series,” he said.

Garnett was in a scrappy mood after the game. He talked about having the Lakers on the ropes and how the Lakers know it. He talked about how the Lakers were like heavyweight champs and the pressure is on them to retain their belt.

“We feel really good,” Garnett said. “I told you all in the beginning: This team is very, very confident. It’s not like we’re just talking to hear ourselves. We’re backing it up.”

Bob Sansevere can be reached at bsansevere@pioneerpress.com.


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