2003-04 Recap: Western Conference Finals

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Playoffs: Round 1 vs. Denver | Round 2 vs. Sacramento | Western Conference Finals vs. Los Angeles

The top-seeded Timberwolves made their first-ever appearance in the Western Conference Finals in 2004, facing the second-seeded Lakers. Minnesota earned a spot in the series after defeating the Sacramento Kings in seven games in the semifinals, while Los Angeles defeated the San Antonio Spurs in six games in their previous series.

The first game of the series, at Target Center, came two days after the Wolves' Game 7 against the Kings. The game was essentially even until late in the third quarter, with neither team holding a lead more than six points. Then L.A.'s Derek Fisher, who hit the game-winning shot against the Spurs in Game 5 of their series, scored eight in the final three minutes of the third as the Lakers broke a 67-67 tie and took an 11-point lead at the end of the period. Los Angeles didn't trail in the fourth despite a late push by the Wolves to pull within four points with less than three minutes left in the game, and the Lakers stole homecourt advantage with a 97-88 decision.

Latrell Sprewell, the Wolves' leading scorer against the Lakers during the regular season, led the team with 23 points. Kevin Garnett added 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Michael Olowokandi had a double-double off the bench with 10 points and 11 boards.

Minnesota squared the series at one game apiece with an 89-71 triumph in Game 2, the Wolves' fourth consecutive in the second game of a playoff series. But the Wolves lost Sam Cassell less than a minute into the game because of a back injury, which would plague him throughout the series. Darrick Martin and Wally Szczerbiak stepped up in Cassell's absence. Martin scored 15 points with six assists and zero turnovers, while Szczerbiak had 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds off the bench. Garnett led the Wolves with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

The 18-point spread is the Wolves' second-largest ever in the playoffs, surpassed only by their 119-91 victory over the Lakers in Game 2 of their first-round series in 2003. The Lakers' 71 points matched a team record for fewest points scored in a playoff game. Shaquille O'Neal was limited to just four points in the first half and 14 overall on 4-of-10 shooting.

Game 3 was at Staples Center, where the Lakers were unbeaten in the 2004 Playoffs. That streak continued as Los Angeles defeated the Wolves 100-89 to take a 2-1 series lead. O'Neal rebounded from his Game 2 performance to score 22 points with 17 rebounds.

Szczerbiak led a rally late in the third quarter by scoring 14 consecutive points to pull the Wolves within two, but Kobe Bryant responded with a pair of jumpers and the Lakers took a five-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Wolves made five fourth-quarter three-pointers — including three by Sprewell — to cut a 17-point lead to eight with under three minutes to go, but the Wolves got no closer.

Garnett finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, leading the Wolves in all three categories. Szczerbiak scored 21 points, his first 20-point night in the 2004 playoffs and the highest-scoring bench effort in franchise playoff history.

Los Angeles took a 3-1 lead with a 92-85 win in Game 4 at Staples Center. Bryant scored 18 of his 31 points in the third quarter, including a stretch of seven straight points, as the Lakers pushed the Wolves to the brink of elimination. O'Neal had 19 points and 19 rebounds, while Karl Malone had 12 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Garnett just missed a triple-double with 28 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. Cassell played only five minutes, entering the game for the first time with 7:40 to go in the third quarter; it would be his last appearance of the series. The defeat gave Minnesota its first two-game losing streak of the 2004 Playoffs.

The teams returned to Minneapolis for Game 5, and the Wolves responded to the elimination game with a 98-96 win. Before the series, Los Angeles had won 12 consecutive games with the opportunity to clinch a playoff series, including six straight on the road.

Los Angeles jumped out to a 20-10 first-quarter lead before the Wolves rallied to tie the game three minutes into the second quarter. The Lakers then quickly took a seven-point lead before a Sprewell jumper game the Wolves the lead with a minute to go in the first half, then a three-pointer by Fred Hoiberg and another jumper by Sprewell pushed the lead to six at halftime.

The Wolves built their lead to 16 midway through the final period before Los Angeles started a comeback. Fisher scored eight points in the second half of the quarter, but three of them came on a three-pointer as time expired to cut the final margin to two points. The Wolves made 5-of-8 free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the win, Minnesota's third double-digit comeback all-time in the playoffs.

Garnett posted game-high totals of 30 points and 19 rebounds, playing all but two minutes of the game for his seventh career playoff 30-point performance. Sprewell tallied 28 points and Hoiberg tied his playoff career high with 14 points.

A second elimination game, this time in Game 6 in Los Angeles, followed. The Wolves rallied from a 13-point first-quarter deficit to tie the game 20 seconds into the second half. Minnesota hit 16-of-17 free throws in the second period to cut L.A.'s lead to two at halftime.

The game was tied five times in the third quarter before the Wolves took a four-point lead with under a minute to go in the period. The Lakers rallied to tie the game 15 seconds into the fourth, then took the lead for good off Kareem Rush's fourth three-pointer of the game. Rush hit six "threes" overall, allotting for all 18 of his points in the game.

With a 96-90 Laker win, the Wolves' season ended at Staples Center for the second straight year, and the Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals for the fourth time in five seasons. Sprewell led the Wolves with 27 points, while Garnett had 22 points and 17 rebounds, his 13th consecutive double-double. In three games with the Wolves facing elimination, Garnett averaged 28.0 points, 19.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.67 blocks in 45.0 minutes.

Minnesota's season closed after 100 games and 68 victories, finishing 10-8 in the playoffs. Prior to 2004, the Wolves had won only seven playoff games in their seven previous playoff appearances combined.

Game 1: Lakers 97, Wolves 88
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Game 2: Wolves 89, Lakers 71
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Game 3: Lakers 100, Wolves 89
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Game 4: Lakers 92, Wolves 85
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Game 5: Wolves 98, Lakers 96
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Game 6: Lakers 96, Wolves 90
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NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Finals
High Pts
High Reb
May 21
Sprewell 23
Olowokandi 11
May 23
Garnett 24
Garnett 11
May 25
Garnett 22
Garnett 11
May 27
Garnett 28
Garnett 13
May 29
Garnett 30
Garnett 19
May 31
Sprewell 27
Garnett 17