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LOS ANGELES — When Kevin Garnett flopped on the free throw line of life with 15.7 seconds remaining in Sunday’ s 102-97 power outage — the Timberwolves were down three points at the time — were you thinking what I was thinking?

“This is precisely why he doesn’t deserve MVP!”

A certified franchise player doesn’t violate the sanctity of such situations . . . as evidenced by Kobe Bryant’s unperturbed procession (16 unguarded makes out of 17 takes) en route to recognition as the NBA’s coolest customer . . . Paul Pierce seizing control of Game 4 in the third quarter with 21 of his 37 points, transforming the Pacers to putty . . . and Tracy McGrady’s serene (27 and 9 assists) demolition of Detroit.

These guys live for such stress, savoring the momentous occasions they swagger into the spotlight to salvage the day.

Not only did Garnett gag — brutally misfiring twice after calmly draining seven straight when there wasn’t as much pressure — and abort 11 of his final 17 FG attempts, but he bailed out the Laker defense at crunch time by lofting up several appalling fadeaway jump shots from afar instead of attacking the rim.

One such absurdity followed a time out; please don’t tell me that was the play Minnesota coach Flip Saunders designed in the huddle.

How are you supposed to dethrone the defending champs, who have never been more explicitly helpless, when your megastar appears overwhelmed by the demands of rank and reputation?

How are you supposed to dispose of Shaq and Kobe when Garnett can’t think on his feet? What other conclusion can be drawn from unsavory shot selection and inexcusable clock mismanagement at the end of the third quarter?

A wise man would have run down the 24-second ticker to the nub before squeezing off a round. Garnett put it up too soon (11 seconds, six shy of a violation, five short of the buzzer), permitting Brian Shaw ample time to seal a 3-pointer to close the gap to 74-71.

How are you supposed to liquidate the Lakers when Garnett obviously doesn’t comprehend that a best-of-seven playoff series isn’t decided by three wins? What gall and gullibility to proclaim the round over prior to Game 4 should the T-Wolves prevail!

As if the Lakers were going to roll over as easily as Tariq Aziz.

How are you supposed to advance to the second round for the first time when your coach doesn’t know enough to keep Rod Strickland on the floor during the guts of the team’s most important game ever?

In 11 minutes, Minnesota’s one and only pure point guard, who owns infinitely more tournament experience (good and bad) than anyone else at that position, was 3-5 with two assists and no turnovers. When Strickland clanked an open baseline springer at the 6:34 mark (L.A. was down 86-82 at the time) I cringed, figuring it was the just the pretext Saunders needed to re-insert starter Troy Hudson.

Largely responsible for the series being 2-2 (on both sides of the ledger!), Troy giveth and Troy taketh away. From my obstructed observation deck, the guy shoots too damn much for the ultimate good of the team.

Instead of creating space for himself, he should have been under strict orders to run pick-and-rolls with Garnett and find Wally Szczerbiak (a 50 percent shooter) more often.

Better yet, Saunders should have played Hudson (18 shots, 6 turnovers, 4 assists) alongside Strickland for the final six minutes and let Rod orchestrate.

It’s only common sense, if the playmaker is out firing 3’s (5-11) beyond he lunatic fringe, how are Garnett, Szczerbiak, Anthony Peeler and Rasho Nesterovic supposed to establish any kind of shooting rhythm, expect to get the ball in the right spot, or, for that matter, at all?

Which brings us to Tim Duncan, who is everything Garnett aspires to be: Leader of a 1999) championship team and MVP (an award he’s slightly favored over K.G. to win again) minus the mental and mechanical mistakes.

The Big Fundamental, my gout!

Naturally, it wouldn’t be difficult to lay the blame Sunday’s 86-84 loss on the 0-10 marksmanship of shooting guards Stephen Jackson (66 points his first three playoff games) and Manu Ginobili and 0 assists by Tony Parker.

“We had a couple of guys who were AWOL and I think it really cost us,” underlined coach Gregg Popovich.

See what I mean?

But, in my book, the guiltiest party, was Duncan. As San Antonio became unglued midway through the fourth and its 12-point spread began to disintegrate in a craze of turnovers (25 leading to 33 points), nobody lowered their standards more than the usually unflustered forward.

Despite 24 points (most against single coverage as Phoenix coach Frankie Johnson switched strategies) and 11 rebounds, his two late mistakes (six total) were momentum enhancers for Phoenix.

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