MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kevin Garnett made an emotional return to Minnesota with an ear-splitting reception and his Timberwolves overcame a jittery start to beat the Washington Wizards 97-77 on Wednesday night.
Garnett, the face of the franchise who was reacquired in a trade from Brooklyn last week, had five points on 2-for-7 shooting with eight rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes in his first game for the Timberwolves since 2007. Kevin Martin scored 28 points and Andrew Wiggins had 19 for the Wolves, who trailed by 15 early after Garnett’s stirring reintroduction.
Marcin Gortat had nine points and 15 rebounds for the Wizards, who have lost five in a row and 10 of their last 12. John Wall had five points on 2-for-10 shooting and 10 assists, and Paul Pierce missed the game with a bruised knee.
Nikola Pekovic had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota, but the night belonged to KG, the charismatic superstar who put this woebegone franchise on the map during 12 brilliant seasons before getting traded to Boston in 2007.
Garnett made his first appearance on the court about 20 minutes before the game when the rest of the team took the floor, and the fans who have missed him for so long remained standing for the next 25 minutes taking videos and photos on their phones.
The lights went out and a goose-bump-inducing video was played showing Garnett highlights, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as Kanye West’s “Homecoming” blared on the speakers. Garnett sat on the bench with his head down the entire time, but popped up as his name was announced and a thunderous ovation rained down from the 19,856 in attendance.
He went through the routine he made famous here, butting his head on the basketball support, knocking knuckles with his teammates as he walked to the scorer’s table and dusting those sitting in the area with a chalk toss.
All the energy may have been a little too much for the Wolves early. They missed 13 of their first 14 shots and fell behind 18-3 before finally settling down.
The struggling Wizards weren’t playing a whole lot better, and missed a big opportunity to put the game away early while the jacked-up Wolves were bouncing off the walls. Washington shot just 32 percent in the first quarter and wilted in the din the rest of the way.
Target Center has been so quiet during the 7 1/2 years Garnett was away. The Wolves were 187-426 since trading him, never once coming even close to sniffing a playoff berth.
They’ve had seven head coaches, three general managers and 143 starting lineups, prompting fans’ eyes to glaze over every time the team trumpeted a new and improved rebuilding plan that was guaranteed to work … this time.
The only time the building really came to life was on the nights Garnett returned with the Celtics and the Nets. Sure, they might get 16 or 17,000 when LeBron James or Kobe Bryant came to town, but fans mostly that stayed away or ignored the team altogether for most of the season and turn out in droves for one night to cheer their departed hero.
Now that he’s back, even if he’s 38 and not the force of nature he once was, Garnett still serves as a symbol for the only truly successful period the franchise has ever known. So for one night at least, they weren’t concerned about how much Garnett has left in the tank, about how their team hasn’t made the playoffs in 11 years.
It is the equivalent of Brett Favre coming back to play for the Green Bay Packers, Albert Pujols returning to the St. Louis Cardinals or Mark Messier going back to the Edmonton Oilers.
Once the excitable Wolves got their bearings, it was all over.
They outscored Washington 32-18 in the third quarter, with Wiggins and Rubio leading the charge. The two fresh faces of the Wolves rebuild went 1 for 8 in the first half for just three points, but combined to shoot 6 for 9 for 19 points in the third quarter to help build a 14-point lead.
The night ended with Garnett stuffing one last Wizards possession, hollering to the crowd that “It’s over! It’s over!” and leaving to chants of “KG! KG! KG!”
Wizards: Coach Randy Wittman has deep ties to the Wolves, serving as a longtime assistant and the head coach for two seasons. “He was a joy,” he said of Garnett. “He’s one of the easiest guys to coach. He listened, worked hard.” … Kris Humphries left the game in the second quarter and did not return because of a strained left hamstring.
Timberwolves: The 77 points allowed were a season-low for the Wolves. … Blasts from the Wolves’ past were everywhere on Wednesday night, including Jiggly Boy, a burly fan who takes his shirt off and dances during breaks. This time he had “Welcome Back KG” written on his chest, and Garnett saluted him and chuckled after the performance.
Wizards: Visit Philadelphia on Friday night.
Timberwolves: Visit Chicago on Friday night.
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