“He’s a tough player,” Smith said. “He talks trash. You have to have fun with that. He kind of smiles because he knows he’s just trying to get into your head.”
Garnett had 32 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the Timberwolves, who have lost eight straight and 11 of 12 on the road.
“You go up against somebody that has a big name in this league and around the world,” Smith said, “and it’s good to do that well.”
The lead changed hands seven times in the second half, but Atlanta never trailed after Salim Stoudamire fed Smith for a dunk that made it 84-83 with 5:58 remaining.
Smith, drafted 17th overall out of high school in 2004, has developed a reputation as one of the league’s premier shot blockers. His 2.4 average ranks third in the NBA, and last Saturday against New York, he became the youngest player in history (21 years, 88 days) to block 500 shots.
Other parts of Smith’s game, particularly a penchant for turnovers and poor shot selection, are less consistent.
“He’s growing up right before our eyes,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. “Tonight was huge. He’s making basketball plays, but he still has a long way to go as a basketball player.”
Minnesota was ahead 66-57 on Ricky Davis’ dunk midway through the third quarter, but the Hawks went on an 11-0 run that ended with Smith’s 3-pointer to give Atlanta its first lead since the first minute of the second quarter.
The Hawks are missing leading scorer Joe Johnson, whose 25-point average was tied for 10th in the NBA when the game began.
“You lose 25 points a game and you have to get them back somewhere,” Childress said. “It depends on who’s hot and who’s making shots.”
Garnett has a league-high 54 double-doubles and 322 since the start of 2002-03. He began the night with 77 more than San Antonio’s Tim Duncan during that stretch.
Davis, who finished with 19 points, hit a pair of free throws to end the scoring for Minnesota with 1:01 left.
Garnett blamed himself for allowing Smith to follow with a layup that pushed Atlanta’s lead to four points.
“On that last play that he scored on, it was my fault due to missing my assignment,” Garnett said. “I was supposed to be there and I wasn’t. We’re all trying to find some answers right now.”
Davis missed two 3s and Troy Hudson misfired beyond the arc on the Minnesota’s final three possessions.
Garnett’s 8-footer midway through the second quarter ended a 25-8 run that gave the Timberwolves a 34-29 lead.
Smith hit his first eight shots from the field before finally missing with a runner midway through the third.
“When he’s shooting like that, you have close down on him and make him put the ball on the floor,” Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said. “I have to give him credit. He played good for them and made big shots down the stretch. We tried to go to a zone defense and get him off his spots, but that didn’t work, either.”
Reserve guards Stoudamire and Tyronn Lue combined for 18 points, including a clutch bucket with the shot clock expiring in the second half.
“That kind of put us behind the eight-ball,” Wittman said. “We just have to play better defense in close games.”
Pachulia tied a season high with 14 rebounds. … Wittman dropped to 7-15 since the Timberwolves fired Dwane Casey on Jan. 23. Combined with his two losing seasons in Cleveland, Wittman is 69-117 in his career. … Hawks G Anthony Johnson was 0-for-7 from the field before his 3-pointer made it 95-91 with 1:08 remaining. … Woodson is now 64-164 as Atlanta’s coach.