MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — His first game in a Timberwolves uniform in nearly eight years was 30 minutes away, and Kevin Garnett was bouncing off the walls in the locker room he called home for 12 years.
Minnesota owner Glen Taylor pulled him aside and tried to calm him down.
“This is your night, Kevin,” Taylor told him. “Just enjoy it.”
And it was.
Garnett made an ear-splitting return to Minnesota and his Timberwolves overcame a jittery start to beat Washington 97-77 on Wednesday night.
Garnett, reacquired in a trade from Brooklyn last week, had five points on 2-for-7 shooting with eight rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes in his first game for Minnesota since 2007.
“I’ve been back before and I never paid attention to how much love is here still for me because I’m too busy being focused on the game,” Garnett said about his previous games at Target Center with Boston and Brooklyn. “And tonight it was just over the top.
“I did not know the city missed me like this. I don’t think that you can ever wish or ever think the city loves you like this. But to see it is reality and I’m very appreciative.”
Standing ovation at the start. Serenaded at the finish. A storybook beginning to what Garnett has called a fairy tale ending to his career.
Kevin Martin scored 28 points and Andrew Wiggins had 19 for the Wolves, who trailed by 15 early after Garnett’s stirring reintroduction.
Marcin Gortat had nine points and 15 rebounds for the Wizards, who have lost five in a row and 10 of their last 12. John Wall had five points on 2-for-10 shooting and 10 assists, and Paul Pierce missed the game with a bruised knee.
“We’ve got to find a way to get out of this slump, man,” Garrett Temple said.
Nikola Pekovic had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Minnesota, but the night belonged to KG, the charismatic superstar who put this woebegone franchise on the map before getting traded to Boston in 2007.
Garnett made his first appearance on the court about 20 minutes before the game when the rest of the team took the floor, and the fans who have missed him for so long remained standing for the next 25 minutes.
The lights went out and a goose-bump-inducing video was played showing Garnett highlights, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as Kanye West’s “Homecoming” blared on the speakers. Garnett sat on the bench with his head down the entire time, but popped up as his name was announced and a thunderous ovation rained down from the 19,856 in attendance.
“Sending chills through my body watching the (hashtag)Twolves announce KG to the home crowd during intros!” tweeted LeBron James, who made his own homecoming to Cleveland this season.
He went through the routine he made famous here, butting his head on the basketball support, knocking knuckles with his teammates as he walked to the scorer’s table and dusting those sitting in the area with a chalk toss.
All the energy may have been a little too much for the Wolves early. They missed 13 of their first 14 shots and fell behind 18-3.
“I think how we started the game shows how shocked we were,” Ricky Rubio said. “We were like, ‘Damn, this is big.'”
Target Center has been so quiet during the 7 1/2 years Garnett was away. The Wolves were 187-426 since trading him, never once sniffing a playoff berth.
They’ve had seven head coaches, three general managers and 143 starting lineups, prompting fans’ eyes to glaze over every time the team trumpeted a new and improved rebuilding plan.
The only time the building really came to life was on the nights Garnett returned with the Celtics and Nets. Sure, they might get 17,000 when James or Kobe Bryant came to town, but fans mostly stayed away or ignored the team altogether.
Now that he’s back, even if he’s 38, Garnett still serves as a symbol for the only truly successful period the franchise has ever known. So for one night at least, they weren’t concerned about how much Garnett has left in the tank, about how their team hasn’t made the playoffs in 11 years.
The Wolves outscored Washington 32-18 in the third quarter, with Wiggins and Rubio leading the charge. The two fresh faces of the Wolves rebuild went 1 for 8 in the first half for just three points, but combined to shoot 6 for 9 for 19 points in the third quarter to help build a 14-point lead.
The night ended with Garnett stuffing one last Wizards possession, hollering to the crowd that “It’s over! It’s over!” and leaving to chants of “KG! KG! KG!”
“Tonight’s event was bigger than the game,” Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. “It’s about bringing a family member back home.”
Wizards: Coach Randy Wittman has deep ties to the Wolves, serving as a longtime assistant and the head coach for two seasons. “He was a joy,” he said about Garnett. “He’s one of the easiest guys to coach. He listened, worked hard.” … Kris Humphries left the game in the second quarter and did not return because of a strained left hamstring.
Timberwolves: The 77 points allowed were a season-low for the Wolves. … Blasts from the Wolves’ past were everywhere, including Jiggly Boy, a burly fan who takes his shirt off and dances during breaks. This time he had “Welcome Back KG” written on his chest, and Garnett saluted him and chuckled.
Wizards: Visit Philadelphia on Friday night.
Timberwolves: Visit Chicago on Friday night.