Garnett and Szczerbiak returned just in time to repel a rally and lift the red-hot Minnesota Timberwolves to their fourth straight victory, a 117-114 victory over the Bucks.
Garnett collected his NBA-leading 47th double-double with 34 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Szczerbiak scored 26 points and had a huge defensive play against Gary Payton.
“We’ve gotta do a better job of finishing games,” Garnett said. “You can give them credit for hitting some shots, but we just need to work harder.”
The Timberwolves held an 89-70 lead late in the third quarter but saw it cut to 101-96 on a dunk by Tim Thomas with 2:49 to go.
Payton stole a pass and streaked in for a layup that would have made it a three-point game. But Szczerbiak, not known for his defense, pursued the play and blocked the shot off the backboard. After a wild sequence, he ended up with the ball and was fouled, making two free throws for a 103-96 lead with 2:17 left.
“I got a piece of it,” Szczerbiak said. “Gary Payton doesn’t just miss layups. I made him miss it and that was the turning point in the game.”
Garnett, who made 11-of-19 shots and 12-of-16 free throws, answered follow shots by Michael Redd with post jumpers on consecutive trips.
Payton made a layup and was fouled with 1:07 remaining. Thomas rebounded his missed free throw but missed a short jumper, and Szcerbiak grabbed the rebound. He made two more foul shots for a 109-102 advantage with 54 seconds left.
The Bucks closed to 116-114 with two seconds left and fouled Troy Hudson, who missed the first of two from the line. Out of timeouts, Milwaukee coach George Karl corraled two of his players and quickly drew up a play on the sideline. But Garnett was looking in on the huddle and stole the inbounds pass after Hudson made the second free throw.
“I saw the play,” Garnett said. “I watched them draw it up, then faded back and played cornerback. Once I got it, I just dribbled it out.”
Hudson had 21 points and seven assists and Rasho Nesterovic added 16 and 12 rebounds for Minnesota, which has won 10 of 11 and 20 of 25.
“Kevin’s playing at an extremely high level, MVP-type play,” Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. “And then we’ve got Wally, who’s playing like an All-Star, and everyone else is filling their role.”
The Wolves shot a blistering 55 percent (40-of-73). They have beaten the Bucks eight straight times overall and have won the last seven meetings in Milwaukee.
“KG made some huge shots down the stretch and for whatever reason, we just seem to play really well here,” Szczerbiak said.
Payton had 21 points and nine assists in his first home game in a Bucks uniform and Redd scored 19 points off the bench for Milwaukee, which has lost five of its last six games.
“I really feel that Minnesota is playing at an extremely high level,” Bucks coach George Karl said. “We did a pretty good job for a team that is trying to get to know each other.”
“George told me in the fourth that he needed to get something special out of me,” said Payton, who received a warm ovation from the crowd of 18,717 at the Bradley Center. “I’m trying to feel things out a little bit right now.”
Getting a defensive spark from Desmond Mason and timely 3-point shooting from fellow reserve Toni Kukoc, the Bucks closed to 95-88 with 6:44 to go. Garnett and Szczerbiak returned seconds later, but Payton made a reverse layup.
Garnett scored on a beautiful up-and-under move to stop the surge. Just over a minute later, he found Hudson for a jumper off an inbounds play to push the lead to 101-94 with 4:52 remaining.
In the first half, Garnett scored 18 points. Ten of those came in the second period, including a breakaway dunk in the final second that gave Minnesota a 60-51 lead.
“We just got some easy touches and got some good looks,” Garnett said. “We were doing the little things, setting picks and passing.”
Szczerbiak scored nine points in the third period as the Wolves took an 89-72 bulge into the final 12 minutes.
“We can’t put ourselves in that kind of hole against a team with a superstar like Kevin Garnett,” Payton said.
Anthony Peeler had 11 points and seven assists for Minnesota, which made 31-of-37 free throws and held a 44-34 advantage on the boards.
Sam Cassell scored 18 points, Kukoc added 16 and Thomas 15 for the Bucks, who shot 48 percent (46-of-95) and made just 13-of-18 from the line.
“They sort of hurt us,” Karl said. “They ran some stuff and picked us apart, but in general in the fourth quarter I thought we did OK.”