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BOSTON -- The Greatest Timberwolf Of Them All insists he takes no extra delight in beating his former team, the one that traded him away in the summer of 2007.
"Absolutely not," Kevin Garnett said after he went for 18 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists in the Celtics' 104-94 victory Wednesday night over Minnesota.
All that was missing, besides the candor, was the accompanying laugh track.
|In addition to his 18 points and 10 rebounds, Kevin Garnett helped neutralize Kevin Love.|
Garnett is all about loyalty and, more than five years since the Timberwolves traded him to Boston for five players and two draft picks, he still gets a little juiced when he sees the cool blue jersey he wore with such distinction for so many years. To believe otherwise is to believe in the tooth fairy or unicorns.
"What do you think?" Doc Rivers said when asked after the game if Garnett indeed plays with some extra fire against his old team. When the reporter answered in the affirmative, Rivers said, "Good answer."
And true, to boot.
There are 15 teams in the Western Conference and Garnett has lost at least once to 14 of them as a member of the Celtics. The one exception: He has never lost to his former employer. The Celtics have won their past 11 games against Minnesota, 10 of which have come since Garnett arrived in Boston.
Garnett was in his final season at Minnesota (although he didn't know that at the time) when the Wolves last beat Boston, 109-107 on a Ricky Davis game-winning jumper. Garnett had a triple-double in the game.
Less than six months later, he was traded to the Celtics. It's almost comical to look back on that "deal" to realize how lopsided it was.
None of the five players are still with Minnesota. Two of the five (Theo Ratliff, Ryan Gomes) are no longer in the NBA. Two others (Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green) have bounced around; Green was out of the league for a while before resurfacing last season. Only Al Jefferson has managed a serviceable NBA career, but he has yet to win a playoff game since leaving Boston. He was traded to Utah after three seasons with the Wolves. One of the draft picks has morphed into Dante Cunningham.
Even the muckety-mucks involved in the deal are no longer with the Wolves. General manager Kevin McHale is on leave while coaching the Houston Rockets. Randy Wittman and Dwane Casey were the coaches in Garnett's last season in Minnesota; they're long gone. Not a single Minnesota player from 2006-07 is still with the team; Kevin Love is the longest-tenured member of the Wolves, arriving in Minnesota in 2008.
But the uniform is pretty much the same. The colors are still the same. The time might be fast approaching when the Timberwolves will be the proverbial "just another game," but, in the here and now, the matchup remains a marquee event for Garnett, even if he insists otherwise.
"Of course he was pumped up," Chris Wilcox said. "But bigger than that was the way we established him in the post early on and went to him, time and again. That's what we're supposed to do every game, and why we don't, I don't know. But we did [Wednesday night] and you saw what happened."
Garnett was a force of nature out of the blocks. He had eight points in the first quarter on 4-of-4 shooting. All four of the shots came before his first break, midway through the period. He ended up playing fewer than 27 minutes but still collected the double-double (his fifth of the season) while matching his season high in assists. He was 8-of-13 from the field.
"I thought Kevin was terrific," Rivers said. "I loved how aggressive he was offensively. You could see he was looking to score, which is always nice for us, because his instinct is going to make him pass. So that was good."
Defensively, he took turns on Love and the leviathan in the pivot, Nikola Pekovic. Love was never a factor despite a 19-point, 13-rebound night. Pekovic proved to be little more than an annoyance. The Celtics took control in the third quarter and stayed comfortably ahead in the fourth, helped in no small part by Minnesota missing 16 of 30 free throws.
While Rajon Rondo provided an excellent floor game (17 points, 11 assists) in his first outing following his two-game suspension, it was the 36-year-old Garnett who set the tone from the outset. He fought for position and held it. He didn't hesitate taking his shot. And, from his vantage point, it was an ideal evening because he got a chance to watch Gino the Dancer on the JumboTron, a rare sight this season given the lack of blowout home victories.
That came with 64 seconds remaining and the Celtics leading by 14 points. Garnett had been pulled with three minutes remaining. Whatever wisdom Rivers was trying to impart in the timeout huddle, it was lost on Garnett, who kept staring at the JumboTron, waiting for Gino, and then raising his right arm and index finger aloft when the bearded dancer came on the screen.
A win over the Timberwolves capped by an appearance by Gino? It doesn't get any better than that for Garnett, even if he's loath to admit it. He might someday forgive. But he will never, ever forget.