|The Minnesota Timberwolves|
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Minneapolis, Minn. — (AP) Even without injured Sam Cassell, the Minnesota Timberwolves had the energy and attitude to even the Western Conference finals. Kevin Garnett scored 24 points and Darrick Martin had 15 points and six assists in place of Cassell, leading the Timberwolves to a 89-71 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 2 Sunday night.
Latrell Sprewell scored 17 points and Wally Szczerbiak had 16, but the Wolves relied on their MVP to put away a game dominated by good defense and bad feelings.
There were seven technical fouls and several trash-talking staredowns in the fourth quarter. Karl Malone was ejected with 2:31 left for a flagrant foul on Martin.
Garnett closed the third quarter with a 3-pointer that helped Minnesota hold off a one-man rally by Kobe Bryant, who scored 27 points and briefly roused the Lakers from their game-long slumber.
But Minnesota coach Flip Saunders had called it a must-win game, and his players responded with all the passion Los Angeles lacked - and Cassell, who played just 43 seconds because of his aching back, surely loved his teammates' toughness in the chippy final minutes.
Martin, a nine-year journeyman signed out of the CBA, outscored Los Angeles' entire frontcourt in the first half - and he even got cocky, glaring at the Lakers' bench after making a 3-pointer with 3:02 to play.
Just 31 seconds later, Malone knocked down Martin, who was unhurt.
Shaquille O'Neal had 14 points and 16 rebounds, and Malone scored just five points while battling constant foul trouble.
Game 3 is Tuesday night at Staples Center. Minnesota's victory guaranteed Game 5 will be played back at the Target Center on Saturday.