MINNEAPOLIS — Limited, lackluster and languishing.
Not at all the Kevin Garnett that once ruled the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
In what may have been the state hoops hero’s final Target Center appearance, the younger, spryer Kevin and company rolled to a 111-81 victory reminiscent of the franchise’s Garnett-led golden years. The 38-year-old former MVP himself displayed every indication of a frustrated, aging veteran aching for one more chance at NBA glory.
“I joked around with (teammate Kevin Martin) tonight that I’m glad I didn’t have to play him in his prime, because he was something else,” said Kevin Love, who led a balanced effort with his 13th double-double this season while matching up with Garnett, one of his childhood idols. “He’s the Big Ticket, and we haven’t seen many players like him before and probably never will again.”
“It’s strange,” small forward Corey Brewer said when asked about seeing the Garnett of now as opposed to then. “Guys get old. But he’s still effective out there. Don’t get me wrong.”
Said Martin, a 10th-year pro himself: “I’d much rather see him in his twilight years.”
This Garnett played less than 21 minutes and, despite his still-intact notoriety for feisty defense, couldn’t rattle Love. When the Timberwolves’ current All-Star four wasn’t clearing out for putbacks or scoring inside, he was directing teammates to run their man off him, because Garnett wasn’t straying from his charge.
The consequence: all five Minnesota (8-6) starters in double figures, with 17 apiece for Love and Martin and 15 each for Brewer and Nikola Pekovic. Ricky Rubio scored 12 and contributed eight assists.
“(Love) didn’t want (Garnett) to score,” coach Rick Adelman said. “He just stayed with him the whole time, and we talked about it at halftime, we talked about it at timeouts, told the guys to use Kevin (Love).”
The leading rebounder and scorer in Timberwolves history, meanwhile, had eight points and eight boards.
As Brewer noted, it was a bizarre sight for 15,551 spectators, many of whom came to see the guy they remember going to 10 All-Star games and leading the Timberwolves to eight straight playoff appearances. Garnett lost to his former team for the first time in eight go-rounds and came in averaging 14.9 points and 10.3 rebounds — all while playing for the Boston Celtics — against it.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov traded for him and Paul Pierce this offseason as part of a $189 million, luxury-tax-be-darned offseason overhaul. Currently, it’s produced the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference and one win in their past eight games.
“Broken record, keep playing the same old song,” a visibly irked Garnett said after the most recent defeat. “We’re playing the instruments, so it’s on us.”
It wasn’t a completely sour night for Garnett. The Timberwolves digital media folks made sure of that, compiling a montage of old highlights that drew a rousing ovation.
Garnett stood up during the timeout and waved back at the fans that he still refers to fondly — even after expressing animosity toward the team’s front office for trading him to Boston in the summer of 2007.
Those days turned out for the best. He won a ring in his first year with the Celtics and played in two other NBA Finals.
The second megadeal involving him hasn’t worked out quite as well.
“We created this monster,” Garnett said. “We have to deal with it.”
Never was his angst more visible Friday than a third-quarter sequence that turned the game’s course for good.
After exchanging blows with him throughout the first half, Garnett reacted to a Love push-off with a forearm shiver to the chest that drew a flagrant foul at the third quarter’s 9:28 mark. Martin sank the technical shot, Love hit both his free throws to chants of “MVP” — an honor bestowed on Garnett in 2004 — and Brewer knocked down one of his three 3-pointers.
J.J. Barea hit another triple on the next possession, and Minnesota went on to produce a 16-0 run that made it 73-43 with 6:33 left in the third.
“That was six-point turnaround for us,” Love said, “and we never really looked back from there.”
Missing three starters and their top reserve due to injury, the Nets (3-9) shot 39.7 percent — 3 for their first 17 as Minnesota built a 21-8 cushion less than 9 minutes in. Love pulled down 11 rebounds in the opening frame, the most he’s had in any first quarter during his six-year career.
The Timberwolves tallied 28 assists to eight turnovers and held a 17-7 edge in fast-break points.
It sure wasn’t anything like Garnett’s previous game at the Target Center, when he outdueled Love and had 24 points and 10 rebounds in a 100-79 rout. Even last year, he accumulated 18 and 10 in a victory played in Boston.
“He still had it pretty good then,” Love said. “He had a lot of good players around him. I’m not saying he doesn’t have it anymore, but he just had so much energy still then and was really playing heavy minutes.
“For him, this is a homecoming, so he’s always gonna get up to play here in Minnesota.”
Times have changed, and the future’s unclear. The Big Ticket is under contract through next season and refuses to discuss retirement.
But someday soon, his career will be over. And the place he still calls a secondary home very well could’ve seen the last of him, or something close to it, Friday night.