Garnett, who nicknamed himself “The Kid” when he was a 19-year-old rookie in Minnesota, had five points in the final minute, including a game-deciding three-point play, to lift the Timberwolves to a 101-96 win over Howard and the Magic.
Garnett added 18 rebounds and six assists, while Howard finished with 19 points and 19 rebounds.
“Dwight is 10 times bigger than I was at 19,” Garnett said. “He’s like a freak of nature. It’s almost scary how he applies himself and works on his game. I had to go to my bag of tricks to come up with some stuff to deal with him.”
Howard had the upper hand in the matchup through three periods, scoring 19 points and grabbing 15 rebounds to 18 and 12 for Garnett.
All but two of Howard’s points came in the paint as he repeatedly took the ball at the Timberwolves’ All-Star, and he didn’t even back down when Garnett drew a technical foul for putting too firm of an elbow into Howard’s back on a rebound at the end of the second quarter.
“Kevin was just trying to intimidate a young kid, which is part of the game,” Magic coach Johnny Davis said. “But Dwight responded the way you’re supposed to respond. He let him know that he’s not going away and he’s going to be a good player for a lot of years.”
Howard drew his fifth foul with 6:56 left in the game and was pulled off Garnett.
Working against 6-foot-9 Tony Battie, Garnett made the key play of the game with 52.9 seconds left when he spun around Battie and banked in a difficult 8-footer while getting fouled. He made the free throw to put finish the three-point play and give Minnesota a 98-95 lead.
Garnett added two free throws and two defensive rebounds in the final 30 seconds.
“Kevin always competes, he was huge down the stretch,” Minnesota coach Kevin McHale said. “He was rebounding, his defense picked up, we got just the kind of effort we needed.”
Hedo Turkoglu had a career-high 32 points for Orlando, but he missed a free throw and a driving layup in the final 25 seconds when the Magic were down by three points.
Neither team led by more than eight points through the first three quarters. Each side had brief spurts of offensive success, but the only sustained run came from Turkoglu, who had 17 points in the first half when the Magic led by as much as 45-38.
Sprewell scored seven straight to tie the game, and Minnesota eventually took a 49-48 halftime lead. The Timberwolves had a 9-7 run to start the third period, taking a 58-50 lead on a three-point play by John Thomas with 9:39 left in the quarter. That turned out to be the biggest lead of the game for either team.
The Magic ran off eight straight points to tie the game at 58-58, and it went down to the final minute. Garnett’s three-point play made it 98-95 with 52.9 seconds left.
Francis turned it over on Orlando’s next possession, but the Magic got the ball back after Garnett was called for a charging foul. This time, Turkoglu was fouled, but hit only one of two free throws to make it 98-96.
After Hudson made one of two free throws with 20.5 seconds to play, Turkoglu drove the lane but missed the layup, and the Magic’s chances were over.
Magic C Kelvin Cato left the game in the second quarter with a strained left shoulder. He did not return. . Magic F Grant Hill missed his third straight game with a bruised left shin. Hill said he would play Sunday night against New Jersey. … Minnesota PG Sam Cassell missed his sixth straight game with a strained hamstring. … Nelson is averaging 16.1 points and 5.4 assists since joining the starting lineup eight games ago. The Timberwolves are giving up an average of 5.2 points (97.1-91.9) since Kevin McHale took over as coach.