Even when Kevin Garnett isn’t scoring at a high level, he can find so many other ways to affect the outcome of a game.
For 12 seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves were the beneficiaries of that all-around brilliance. On Wednesday night, they fell victim to it.
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Garnett had 12 points and 11 rebounds in his third game back in Minnesota since he was traded in 2007, helping the Boston Celtics remain undefeated with a 92-90 victory over the Timberwolves.
Rajon Rondo scored 14 of his 18 points in the third quarter for the Celtics (6-0), who join the Denver Nuggets as the only two teams in the league without a loss.
Garnett’s former team gave his current one all it could handle. The Wolves had a chance to tie in the final 10 seconds of the game. But Garnett made two beautiful interior passes for layups earlier in the final period, then forced a jump ball with Corey Brewer on an amazing defensive play with 3.6 seconds to play to seal the win.
“I’m so numb when I come in here,” Garnett said. “I sort of put my face on as I say. I get so intense.”
Oleksiy Pecherov scored a career-high 24 points and Al Jefferson added 18 points for the Timberwolves, who led throughout the first three quarters before Eddie House hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie it going into the final period.
“We didn’t get too excited, didn’t get too frustrated when we were playing awful,” Boston coach Doc Rivers said. “I think that’s good. That is a sign of experience. I don’t think anybody panicked.”
Garnett came to Minnesota straight from high school in 1995, growing up from a skinny kid into a dominant force on both ends of the floor. He owns nearly every franchise career record worth having, but the Timberwolves decided to part ways with the only star they have ever had.
In just his third game back in the arena that he essentially built, it would be hard to imagine Garnett even recognized the franchise that he put on the map.
Every player from his final season in Minnesota is gone and so is the architect of the Garnett years – Kevin McHale. Owner Glen Taylor fired McHale this offseason, hiring David Kahn as president of basketball operations and Kurt Rambis as head coach.
“It’s easy to come in here and focus because I don’t have any of my old teammates here anymore,” Garnett said.
The novelty of Garnett playing for another team in Target Center may have worn off, but it’s clear he is still missed by basketball fans in Minnesota. A near sellout crowd came out to see him, with thousands wearing Celtic green or a Garnett jersey – both the Boston and Minnesota varieties – to cheer their departed star.
Garnett received a standing ovation during introductions and was cheered throughout the game, but these young Timberwolves also took it as an opportunity to introduce themselves to a fan base that has turned indifferent in the years since KG left.
“We played hard, we played with a lot of energy,” Pecherov said. “We just have to learn how to finish these games. We’ve been playing the last three games with great effort. To lose at the end of the game is kind of hard. It’s what we need to learn about.”
The Wolves (1-4) led by eight at halftime and three with 6:44 to play, but couldn’t hang on against the battle-tested Celtics. They have lost the last three games by a combined 13 points.
“They battled once again,” Rambis said. “I like the way our guys are fighting. I like the way they’re competing. They just don’t quit. They keep believing they can win. I admire that about them.”
NOTES: Wolves PG Jonny Flynn, a Syracuse alum, said he’s been inundated with jabs since the Orange lost to Division-II Le Moyne. “I’m getting phone calls, text messages, they won’t stop!” Flynn said sheepishly. … Celtics F Rasheed Wallace was in midseason form, picking up a technical foul from the bench for jawing with officials after being whistled for a foul on Pecherov.