In his highly anticipated return to the Target Center in February, an appreciative crowd paid tribute to Garnett with a deafening reception, but an injury kept the 11-time All-Star on the sidelines and unable to play in front of the Timberwolves fans that came out to support him.
This time, Garnett is set to play.
Garnett will take the court at the Target Center for the first time as a visitor on Friday when the surging Celtics visit Minnesota, which is coming off its first win in three weeks.
The Timberwolves (2-8) selected Garnett out of high school with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 draft, and he would go on to score more than 19,000 points for Minnesota and hold more than a dozen franchise records.
“The things he did here, how can you not love him?” Timberwolves forward Al Jefferson said. “I watched him as a kid growing up in middle school and high school. The fans have every right to love him and respect him.”
Garnett led the Timberwolves to the 2004 Western Conference finals and was named the league MVP that season, but Minnesota cut ties with its franchise player after the 2006-07 season. The Wolves traded Garnett to Boston (11-2) for Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green and two draft picks.
Garnett returned to Minnesota on Feb. 8, but sat out with an abdominal strain in Boston’s 88-86 win. Two weeks before that game on Jan. 25, Garnett had 10 points and 16 rebounds in the Celtics’ 87-86 win over the Wolves in Boston.
“It was tough. You wanted to get that feeling of him being back out there,” Minnesota forward Craig Smith said. “This year, he’s definitely going to play so we’re definitely going to be ready.”
The Celtics and Wolves have gone in complete opposite directions since the trade.
Garnett teamed up with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen last season, as Boston defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals to win the franchise’s 17th title. The Celtics are off to another fast start, and already have a four-game lead atop the Atlantic Division.
The Timberwolves, meanwhile, were tied with Memphis for the third-worst record in the NBA last season (22-60), and have stumbled out of the gate this year.
Minnesota defeated Sacramento 98-96 in its season opener on Oct. 29, but lost its next eight games before beating Philadelphia 102-96 on Wednesday.
The Wolves have had trouble closing out games, as they’ve relinquished fourth-quarter leads in six defeats, but they managed to hang on against the 76ers. Jefferson scored six of his 25 points in the final 3 1/2 minutes, and Smith scored a season-high 21 points and matched a career best with five assists.
While Minnesota had another close game its last time out, the Celtics are coming off an easy 98-80 win over Detroit on Thursday in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals. Boston led by as many as 29, as it won for the ninth time in 10 games.
Both teams emptied their benches down the stretch, and Garnett finished with 15 points and four rebounds in just 25 minutes in his return from a one-game suspension for a hard foul on Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut on Saturday.
Pierce finished with just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting on Thursday. He has scored 16 points on 5-of-19 shooting in two games against the Pistons this season compared to averaging 22.4 points on 41.6 percent shooting in his other 11 contests. Pierce hopes to bounce back Friday, as he’s averaged 23.3 points in four games against the Wolves since 2006-07.