-- MINNEAPOLIS -- After Shaquille O'Neal dominated the first game of the Western Conference finals, the Timberwolves figured out how to quiet him down. They surrounded him. O'Neal finished with just 14 points -- 4-for-10 from the field and 6-for-14 from the free throw line -- for the Lakers in Sunday's 89-71 loss. "Blame it on the rain," he said. "It was just one of those days where I was missing chippies. ... I don't usually go 4-for-10, but I know I won't go 4-for-10 at home." Minnesota publicly worried how to stop O'Neal once this matchup was set. What team doesn't? He's 7-foot-1 and 340 pounds -- too big, too commanding and too experienced to ever be ignored on the court. "You can't stop Shaq," said Mark Madsen, one of the five Timberwolves who took turns guarding O'Neal. "We just tried to contest every shot ... what they do to K.G. -- send three and four guys at him." Los Angeles got 27 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks from O'Neal in Game 1, when the Wolves avoided the Hack-a-Shaq defense. Their centers combined for only eight fouls, and O'Neal uncharacteristically made nine of his 11 free throws. But after making his first two foul shots Sunday, O'Neal missed seven of his next eight -- including an airball midway through the third quarter that brought jeers from the crowd. Ervin Johnson, Michael Olowokandi, Oliver Miller, Madsen and Gary Trent totaled 15 fouls Sunday. "We were getting it to him," Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant said. "It's just that they were crowding him. He really couldn't operate. ... We have to try to figure out ways to get him some easier touches." The Lakers probably could've withstood such substandard production from their surpassing center, but Bryant (27 points) was the only teammate who played with any energy. The 71 points tied a franchise low for the playoffs, done twice in 1995. Gary Payton had eight points, Karl Malone just five and Devean George three. The Lakers used an 11-0 run over the final three minutes of the third quarter to create a comfortable lead on Friday, and it looked like they were on their way to a similar spurt at that stage of Game 2. O'Neal grabbed a rebound and dunked to cut Minnesota's lead to 10 points with 1:39 left in the period, his second field goal of the game and his first since late in the first quarter. Kareem Rush made a 3-pointer from the wing with 1:04 remaining, and suddenly Los Angeles was within 63-56. But Miller beat O'Neal to catch a pretty pass from Latrell Sprewell off a pick-and-roll and dunked. Kevin Garnett swished a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to bump the Wolves' lead back to 12. The Lakers came no closer than 11 points in the fourth quarter lost their cool more than once. O'Neal glared at Trent after contact in the lane that drew a foul on Madsen. Shortly afterward, Stanislav Medvedenko picked up a technical foul for lightly pushing Garnett after fouling him. With 3:39 left in the game, Derek Fisher scowled at Wally Szczerbiak at midcourt and each picked up technical fouls after words were exchanged. A minute later, Malone was ejected for a flagrant foul. He used a forearm to level Darrick Martin. In all, Los Angeles had four technicals in the fourth period. All that testiness seemed to be a culmination of a night's worth of frustration, which clearly started with O'Neal's less-than-stellar performance. "They denied Shaq the ball, and Shaq can normally free up shooters," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "But Shaq just never got into position to be a threat."
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