MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Garnett sat in the visitor’s locker room at Target Center, searching for answers to difficult questions after yet another disheartening loss by his Brooklyn Nets.
Just down the hall, Minnesota’s Kevin Love got dressed a few feet from the locker that Garnett called home for 12 years. And while he was trying to be respectful of the player that put the Timberwolves franchise on the map, Love delivered the hard truth that has dropped like an anvil on Garnett and the $190 million Brooklyn Nets this season.
“I joked with (Kevin Martin) tonight that I’m glad I didn’t have to guard him in his prime,” Love said after needing just three quarters to bury KG and the Nets en route to a 30-point victory Friday night. “Because he was something else. He’s a Hall of Fame player. He’s the Big Ticket.”
Once one of the most intimidating and ferocious players in the league, Garnett’s growl is as menacing as ever. But as he enters the twilight of his career at 37, he’s finding out the hard way that opponents no longer fear the bite that comes with it.
The younger players he used to bang in the paint are standing up to him now, and the Nets are quickly finding what they’ve accomplished in the past isn’t going to help them dig out of a 3-9 hole at the bottom of the woeful Atlantic Division.
“We’re soul-searching right now. See who we are,” Garnett said after the 111-81 loss to the Timberwolves. “Each individual in here got to look themselves in the mirror and try to see what they can do better. Period, point blank.”
Garnett is averaging a career-low 6.8 points and shooting a career-worst 37.8 percent in 12 games this season. His aging teammates, including Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Deron Williams and Jason Terry are either off to equally slow starts or haven’t been able to stay on the court because of injuries.
That’s forced new coach Jason Kidd to try to squeeze more of the old KG out of Old KG than he ever planned to do after a blockbuster summer spending spree by owner Mikhail Prokhorov had the Nets talking about challenging Miami in the East.
So far, Garnett hasn’t been able to carry the load like he did for so many years. The Nets have lost four straight and seven of their last eight while banged up.
“Everyone needs to look in the mirror and see what they can do better, including myself,” Garnett said after managing eight points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes against the Wolves. “Because quitting’s not an option. I didn’t get this far, none of us got this far, from quitting.”
Love is right. Garnett was something else.
KG was a force of nature, as intense a competitor as the league has ever seen. His fiery stare and foul-mouthed fury would stun his younger counterparts, practically giving him five points, three boards and two blocks before the game even started. His unbending will raised the Timberwolves to respectability before leading the Boston Celtics to one title and another finals appearance.
His skills have been in decline for a few years. But he remained a formidable presence even into last year, when the old Celtics put a scare into the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.
Two years ago, Garnett was already starting to hear whispers about his demise and about Love’s greatness when the Celtics came to town in late March. He responded with a fury, racking up 24 points, 10 rebounds and four assists while hounding Love all over the court in a 100-79 rout.
He tried to do the same thing on Friday night, pestering, poking and prodding Love on both ends. The 25-year-old Love, who is off to an MVP-caliber start this season, finally responded in the third quarter, swatting KG’s hands away as they bumped each other in the low post. That set the veteran off, and he delivered a forearm shiver to Love’s chest that earned him a technical foul and a flagrant.
The outburst didn’t scare Love. It fueled a 16-0 run and pushed Minnesota’s lead to 37 points at one point in the third quarter.
“That’s kind of vintage KG, just tried to get himself going, himself into the right mind frame,” Love said. “I just didn’t really care.”
Prokhorov spared no expense to put this team together. In doing so, he sent a message to the rest of the league: Bring it on.
And they’re bringing it.
Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul George, Blake Griffin. They’ve all beaten Garnett and the Nets this season. Andre Drummond is up next on Sunday. Jonas Valanciunas, Dwight Howard and Zach Randolph are coming before the end of the month.
In this league, there is no comfort for old men. And the Nets have a lot of them.
Garnett is still essential to Brooklyn. He’s revered in the locker room and his work ethic and leadership can inspire the team and hold it together while Kidd learns on the job. But put a team on his back and carry it on the court? Those days might be numbered.
“Everybody’s frustrated,” Garnett said. “I don’t think there’s a happy person in here or a guy who’s smiling. There’s nothing to be smiling about right now.”
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