The Minnesota Timberwolves have seldom held home-court advantage in a playoff series (it obviously doesn’t help that the Timberwolves have not made the playoffs many times in general). With that said, one of those memorable times was all the way back in the 2003 playoffs, a season in which the Wolves won 51 regular season games, one more than the previous season and a then-team record.
How did the Basketball Gods reward the Timberwolves? With a first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. Though not the same team that dominated the start of the decade, these Lakers were coming off three-straight championships and made for a formidable opponent.
You could see how foot trouble had slowed Shaquille O’Neal down ever so slightly, but he still averaged 28-15-3 in the series. Kobe Bryant was right in his prime. It did not matter that Derek Fisher was the team’s third-leading scorer. With O’Neal and Bryant, the Lakers were still a fearsome unit.
The Lakers flexed their might in Game 1’s 117-98 victory at Target Center. O’Neal and Bryant combined for 71 points as they cruised to the 1-0 series lead. Kevin Garnett posted 23 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists in 45 minutes. It’s no surprise they lost that game by nearly 20 points.
Game 2 was essentially a must-win because the next two games were in Los Angeles. You may not remember Game 2 of this series. What you may remember is Troy Hudson dropping 37 points and finally getting Garnett some got dang help during the playoffs.
Hudson’s One Shining Moment
It was evident from the jump this was going to be Hudson’s master class. By the final buzzer, Hudson finished with 37 points on 16 shots and 10 assists. The highlights are above if you want to follow along. I hope you like 20-footers!
Hudson scored six of the team’s first 10 points and assisted on the two other baskets. His contributions were invaluable in pacing the Timberwolves ahead of the O’Neal and Bryant charge. Those 11 points gave the Timberwolves the 28-23 lead after one quarter.
T-Hud’s scoring barrage continued in the second quarter with eight points, including a 3-pointer at the end of the half. The Timberwolves led by 13 and continued to build the lead in the third quarter. This time, the Lakers were not going to steal this game. Minnesota won Game 2 handily, 119-91.
This scoring outburst wasn’t entirely out of nowhere — Hudson scored 31 in the 2003 regular season. In 2002 with Orlando, Hudson dropped 34 points— his career-high.
While the Timberwolves would eventually lose the series, they would win Game 3 at Staples Center. Losing three straight after that is unpleasant but there was no shame losing to this Lakers team.
Underdiscussed: Garnett’s Monster Game 2 Performance
Garnett often takes the heat for the Timberwolves’ playoffs shortcomings and it was often unfair. Opposing teams would hone in on Garnett and dare literally anyone else in the arena to beat them. It was a great dare because it usually worked out for opponents.
In Game 1, for example, Hudson had 17 points on 16 shots and Wally Szczerbiak had 15 points. Having those two take 25 combined shots while Garnett was 11-for-21 was a huge win for the defense. Keeping the ball out of Garnett’s hands as much as possible was critical.
While Hudson was torching the Lakers from the perimeter, Garnett was still very involved. Not only did Garnett finish with 35 points on 15-for-21 shooting, he grabbed 20 rebounds and threw seven assists. Garnett was everywhere. The Lakers often stuck Mark Madsen on Garnett in single coverage and paid for it again and again.
What choice did they have? Robert Horry? Rick Fox? Samaki Walker? You weren’t about to have O’Neal, seven months after toe surgery, trying to defend a young and spry Garnett in space.
Garnett and Hudson had outstanding chemistry, as you see in the clips above. Their two-man game and pick ‘n’ rolls were incredible. Both players made each other better in this game.
Why don’t we mention this Garnett performance? Maybe because it’s Garnett and we had become more accustomed to his greatness. Garnett was consistently great while Hudson was just beginning to blossom as an NBA starter after bouncing around early in his career. I don’t think Garnett is upset that Hudson’s performance is remembered more than his either.
Did This Game Even Matter?
The Timberwolves had a lot of postseason baggage by 2003. Garnett was too passive and the team had six consecutive first-round exits. It’s almost impossible to imagine a team in today’s NBA remaining intact after that many early exits without as much as a coaching change.
What makes Game 2 special is it was a loud statement coming off a bad home loss. It also led to this backhanded praise from Lakers coach Phil Jackson after the game: “I don’t think they can play any better than that. They played a desperate game.’’
Remember, Jackson said that and then the Timberwolves immediately went back to Los Angeles to steal a four-point victory in Game 3. Suddenly, the Lakers were down 2-1 and the media was wondering about the state of the dynasty. Here’s what Jackson told the L.A. Times before Game 4:
“I think we know this game is a need game for us,” Jackson said. “We have to re-establish something on our home court. It’s not going to be championship banners hanging on the wall. It’s going to have to be our play that does that.”
The Timberwolves did not fall over dead at the sight of the Lakers, nor at the sight of the Lakers winning by 19 points in Game 1. They are shooting 50.6% from the floor, and they are delivering the hard blows, making the hard stops. It’s what Jackson meant about today’s Lakers fighting today’s fight.
“We saw some fear in their eyes on Sunday,” he said. “They were confused a little bit. They came back out with renewed vigor on Tuesday and carried that momentum into [Thursday] night’s game. Everything turns on a trifle. Kobe makes a free throw, we’re all laughing about the great comeback we had. So, that’s the way things are in basketball.”
Even Bryant acknowledged there was pressure after downplaying the Lakers situation by saying, “We lost two games. OK. Fine. Let’s get back and get the next one.” Rick Fox also admitted this was not the same team as previous and they needed to find their own way.
The 2003 Timberwolves may have lost the final three games, including the last two in blowout fashion, but they made the dynastic Lakers break a sweat. Phil Jackson was absolutely right that the Timberwolves came firing out of the gates in Game 2 and carried that through Game 3, even without Garnett in overtime.
While Game 2 may seem insignificant, it was a turning point in the series and the pressure shifted from the Timberwolves to the Lakers for at least a few days. While Garnett’s performance was incredible, we’ll always remember this as the Troy Hudson Game™.