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WOLVES 83, KINGS 80

Garnett invaluable to Wolves

His 32 points, 21 rebounds knock off Kings in Game 7

MINNEAPOLIS -- Kevin Garnett jumped atop the scorer's table and made a huge footprint in the chalk dust before saluting a screaming sellout crowd.

The league's MVP left his mark all over this game, too, putting the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference finals with one of the greatest performances of his career.

Garnett had 32 points, 21 rebounds, and 5 blocks on his 28th birthday, and the Timberwolves held on to beat the Sacramento Kings, 83-80, last night in Game 7 of their semifinal series.

"I felt like I had to be the example to everybody," Garnett said.

The victory wasn't assured until Chris Webber's 3-point attempt spun around the rim and out as the final buzzer sounded, giving star-crossed Sacramento a Game 7 playoff loss for a third straight year.

"I definitely thought the last shot was good," Webber said. "It did everything but go in."

Minnesota will host the Los Angeles Lakers, who have been idle since Saturday, in Game 1 of the conference finals tomorrow night.

With the Timberwolves clinging to a 3-point lead, the Kings had a final possession to tie. Doug Christie's off-balance 3-pointer was an airball, and Brad Miller's layup attempt off the rebound was blocked by Garnett into the seats near Sacramento co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof.

The Kings got another inbounds pass with 2.2 seconds remaining. Webber pump-faked Garnett in the air and got a clean look as Garnett avoided contact.

"I thought it was going down," coach Rick Adelman said. "But it just didn't happen."

Webber, who had 16 points, collapsed to his knees in disappointment after Sacramento failed again, just as the Kings did against Lakers in 2002 and last year against Dallas.

"I've had some real special presents on my birthday, but nothing like this," said Garnett, who hugged Webber before going to celebrate.

"K.G. is probably my favorite player in the league," said Webber, whose readjustment to his team was a struggle after he returned from a knee injury in early March. "I love going against him. He told me to get healthy, keep my head up."

Christie, Sacramento's sixth-leading scorer during the season, had 21 points as his team's unlikely leader. Mike Bibby added 15 points, and Miller had 11.

Sam Cassell played through an ailing back and returned to form with 23 points and seven assists for Minnesota. Latrell Sprewell added 14, and Wally Szczerbiak had 10 off the bench. The Kings, who trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, were down only 4 when Garnett delivered a big blow. As the shot clock ran down, he hit a 3-pointer over Miller and Bibby to make it 77-70 with 3:39 remaining.

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