MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Kevin Garnett has moved on.
The championship trophy he earned with Boston last season made it all too easy to put 12 years of mostly mediocre basketball in Minnesota behind him.
The Timberwolves are trying to move on as well without the only star the franchise has ever had. They have jettisoned all but four of his former teammates in the last 16 months, changed the look of their home court and redesigned their uniforms in the massive makeover.
But moving on is hard to do when KG still owns Target Center.
In his first game on the court since being traded before last season, Garnett scored 17 points to help his Celtics cruise to a 95-78 victory Friday night.
Every bucket he scored was cheered by the Timberwolves faithful who latched on to him as a skinny 18-year-old kid drafted in 1995 and still are coming to grips with the fact that he’s now frolicking in greener—literally and figuratively—pastures.
“It’s always good to go somewhere and feel the love in the building,” Garnett said. “It’s even better to win in the place I used to play. It was a good feeling. There was a lot of great energy in the building. I was just blessed that the people came out, so thank you, fans.”
Al Jefferson scored 23 points for the Timberwolves. But he shot just 8-of-20 and the Timberwolves were shooting a jaw-dropping 23 percent heading into the fourth quarter before finishing at 31 percent.
The Celtics outscored Minnesota 35-10 in the decisive third quarter, with Garnett putting away two alley-oop passes and throwing down two more dunks to the delight of hundreds of fans wearing his No. 5 Celtics jersey and still more sporting his old blue No. 21.
“We just relented into it,” Wolves coach Randy Wittman said. “We didn’t try to fight through and find ways to get to the free throw line more.”
Garnett was injured in Boston’s only game here last season. That kept him from playing in the arena he called home for 12 brilliant seasons.
He was fully healthy this time around—and carrying a little extra bling with him. The Celtics captured that long-sought NBA title for Garnett in his first season in Boston, giving him a big, shiny ring to match the huge diamond studs he wears in his ears.
Garnett shot 8-of-12 and did all the little things he excelled at in his beloved ‘Sota.
Still searching for an identity in the post-KG Era, Minnesota made only two field goals in the period and fell to 2-9 on the season.
Jefferson, the lynchpin of the seven-player package Boston sent to Minnesota for Garnett, was no match. He missed 11 of his first 15 shots as the Wolves wilted.
“He’s a competitor. I’m a competitor,” Garnett said. “He’s trying to make his franchise better. I’m trying to win another championship. Two different players at two different stages in their career.”
There were plenty of empty seats in the house, perhaps the most concrete sign yet that Minnesota has finally come to grips that the only pro basketball star this generation of fans has ever known is gone and not coming back.
Stone-faced, Garnett went through his warmups as if it were any other game in any other venue, with that trademark intensity smoldering from the moment he stepped on the court.
He was introduced first and received a standing ovation, but nothing compared to the thunderous welcome he got in his first game back in this building last February, though he did not play with an abdominal injury.
“It’s just another team that I play against,” Garnett said. “I don’t put no more or no less than that into it.”
But Boston coach Doc Rivers wasn’t buying that for one second.
“Obviously this one is special,” Rivers said. “His job is to try to stay as focused as possible for a game, but clearly this is special for him. He knows that. We all know that.”
Before the game, the Celtics sent rookie F Bill Walker down to Utah in the NBDL. Walker has not appeared in a game this season. “We just want him to play,” Rivers said. … Wolves G Rashad McCants sat out the game with back spasms. … Newly crowned UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar, a former wrestler at the University of Minnesota, was in attendance.