MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Kevin Garnett made his first big statement in a bid for a second consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player award.
Playing before their largest crowd of the season, the Wolves trailed for most of the first three quarters before using a 18-3 burst in the fourth to turn a four-point deficit into a 109-98 lead with 2:57 remaining.
Garnett scored 10 points and had five assists in a fourth quarter in which he was teamed for most of the period with four reserves—Fred Hoiberg, Eddie Griffin, Troy Hudson and Trenton Hassell. That quartet combined for 22 points and ignited the crowd of 19,101 with their energy.
Garnett compared his role on the team to that of an MVP in a different sport.
“The luxury of this team is that I’m like Peyton Manning,” Garnett said. “My job is to get everybody touches. Granted, I make the game easier for a lot of people.”
Said Griffin, “He’s the toughest player in the league to guard. He can score when he wants, and if you try to double-team him, he’ll find the open man.”
Garnett hit four free throws to tie the score 95-95, then zipped a cross-court pass to Hoiberg for a 3 and a 98-97 advantage, the Wolves’ first lead since 6-5.
“He amazes me every night,” Hoiberg said. “It’s always something different.”
Griffin added 18 points for Minnesota, and Sam Cassell scored 14 of his 15 points in the second half.
“We had ‘em,” Webber said. “Their energy went up and we didn’t keep our groove. And when they’re feeding off their crowd, you know they’re going to try to make a run.”
It was another in a series of high-scoring, hard-fought games between the two Western Conference foes.
They met in a tense seven-game series in the conference semifinals last year, won by Minnesota, and the Wolves handed the Kings their only other loss of the past 14 games by winning 121-110 at Arco Arena on Nov. 28.
“We both have guys who can score and compete and like to compete against each other,” Sacramento’s Brad Miller said.
The loss ended a four-game road winning streak for Sacramento.
The Kings built a double-digit lead early and maintained it until early in the fourth quarter, when Griffin hit a 3-pointer to tie the score 87-87.
Webber scored 12 of his points in the third quarter, and Jackson hit three 3-pointers, including one at the buzzer, to give Sacramento an 82-76 lead after three.
The Kings went on a 16-3 run midway through the first quarter to take a 23-10 lead. Webber got inside for three easy baskets and Bibby and Jackson hit long 3s. Minnesota shot just 23 percent (5-for-22) in the first quarter.
“They do so much cutting and freelancing,” Garnett said. “Sac is about as close as it gets to playground basketball.”
Garnett reacted angrily when Kings forward Darius Songaila shoved him as Garnett was going up for a shot and Garnett came down hard. But he channeled his frustration, scoring six of his team’s points and setting up the other two baskets in a 10-4 run to pull the Wolves to 46-44.
Griffin might be the early favorite for the league’s Most Improved Player, averaging 11 points and seven rebounds after being out of the league for 17 months. Said Wolves coach Flip Saunders of Griffin, “He’s got a comfort level on the floor and off the floor.” … The Wolves, one of the league’s best jump-shooting teams, didn’t make one in the first quarter, getting all five field goals on layups or dunks, but recovered to shoot 51 percent for the game.