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Original Issue

Shooting Star In a postseason already marked by virtuoso performers, no one has played better than Minnesota's Kevin Garnett

The breakout player in the Minnesota Timberwolves-Los Angeles
Lakers first-round Western Conference series, which at week's end
stood at 2-2, was Minnesota guard Troy Hudson, who through four
games had averaged 27.3 points. The takeover player, though, was
teammate Kevin Garnett. Like a long-limbed tree, the 7-foot,
220-pound Garnett was able to shade both Lakers superstars,
center Shaquille O'Neal and guard Kobe Bryant, yet still contain
his primary responsibility, usually power forward Robert Horry or
Mark Madsen. "A defensive predator," Minnesota coach Flip
Saunders calls his franchise player, which would be praise enough
had Garnett not also been the series' best offensive player.

That KG (who averaged 29.8 points, 16.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists and
two blocked shots in the first four games) has filled up box
scores is hardly a revelation. But in the presence of such
postseason titans as O'Neal and Bryant, Garnett's remarkable
versatility made him the focus of the series. Even after fouling
out 12 seconds into overtime of last Thursday's Game 3, Garnett
knelt in front of the bench like a giant praying mantis, prodding
and pleading his team to its unlikely 114-110 victory on the
Lakers' home court. "Whatever part I had to play, I was going to
play it," Garnett said later. "If I had to be a cheerleader
without the skirt and pom-poms, I was going to be that." That
foul-out notwithstanding, Garnett's ongoing ascension was in
evidence on Sunday during the Lakers' 102-97 Game 4 win. On at
least three occasions his defender was whistled for an
off-the-ball foul, the kind of call Garnett got infrequently in
the last six playoff seasons, all of which ended in first-round

Still, the lasting image of Garnett from Sunday was of him
missing two free throws (with 15.7 seconds left) that could have
cut the Lakers' lead to one. So often he has been criticized for
not doing enough in the postseason, and though he did virtually
everything in the first four games of this playoff, his ultimate
validation had yet to arrive, as Garnett well knew. "It's on me
to get us out of the first round," he had said before the
postseason. "It's a challenge I'm ready for." --Jack McCallum

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [T of C] WOLFISH GRIN Kevin Garnett and Minnesota will try to finish off the Lakers this week (page 50).

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH PROWLIN' WOLF With the ball or without, Garnett riddled Madsen and L.A.