Often times, you can judge the hype surrounding an NBA team by its ceremonial player introductions. Typically, the louder the fans are, the better.
In Minnesota, this can be traced back to Kevin Garnett’s first stint with the Timberwolves. During the team’s 8-year playoff stretch, it was typically impossible to hear Garnett’s name when it was called by Rod Johnson during at the start of games. After the Cassell/Sprewell era was over, the noise started to fade, and Garnett’s name grew clearer during the introductions. After he left, as the team fell into a 10-year playoff drought, the crowd noise faded even more.
Tonight was Kevin Garnett’s first game back in the Target Center after the much-discussed deadline deal with Brooklyn, and with it came an opening of a magnitude that hadn’t been seen in, well, ever.
The introductions gave the entire crowd jitters. It was official: Kevin Garnett, by far the best player in team history, was back in a Wolves uniform. Everyone was jacked up, including the players, Garnett too. It would have been easy to forget they had a game to play. As the game began, that may have actually happened.
Early on against the Washington Wizards, the jitters showed. Over-hustle and nervousness got the Wolves off to a shaky start, down 13-1 in the game’s first 6 minutes. Garnett, Ricky Rubio, and everyone else struggled to find any rhythm offensively. At times, they worked too hard to get Garnett his first shot. The over-anxiousness resulted in play looking stagnant to start. They only scored 11 points in the first quarter.
It was the other Kevin, Kevin Martin, who managed to keep the Wolves in the game in the first half with his 16-point outburst in the second quarter. Nobody else was able to bring much offensively in the half but Martin, who scored over half the team’s points in the quarter.
Collectively, however, the team’s defensive efforts stayed mostly shar. A pair of defensive plays really stood out for Garnett to close the quarter. The first came in a sequence of defensive play-calling that the Timberwolves haven’t had in a long time. It came when Garnett directed Martin towards a double team, resulting in a steal.
A couple minutes later, Garnett took defensive matters into his own hands, making a play less than a handful of 7-footers have been able to make in the history of the game. The subsequent celebration was classic KG.
Once the second half hit, the perfect medium of nostalgia and effort seemed to finally set in for the Wolves. Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins started to play like their usual selves, Nikola Pekovic found his way into a double double, and Gorgui Dieng had a important stretch of 6 straight points. The Wolves were able to pull away completely by midway through the 4th quarter en route to one of their easiest wins of the season.
Garnett finished with just 5 points and 8 rebounds in just under 19 minutes, but like many expected, his impact came more from his mere presence in the building. At first, it seemed to be a detriment to the Wolves, but once everyone (not counting the excellently loud crowd) calmed down, his impact more or less set the tone for the rest of the team. In a good way.
After the game, Garnett was still seemingly in awe of the unique experience that had just taken place.
“Obviously, when I won in Boston, it was a special time. With my kids being born, it was a special time for me. This is full circle,” he said. “I’ve been back before [with other teams] and I’ve never paid attention to how much love is still here for me because I’ve been too busy being focused with the game. Today, it was just over the top. I did not know the city missed me like this. I don’t think you could ever wish, or ever think that a city loves you like this, but to see it is reality and I am very appreciative.”
Garnett also made the distinction that had to be mentioned: tonight was a team win. Garnett is no longer able to win games by himself. Offensively, it was Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng who stepped up at different parts of the game to help the Wolves pull away. Defensively it was, according to Flip Saunders, their best team effort all season. They held the Wizards to 37 percent shooting from the field, and 22 percent from deep. They held John Wall to 5 points on 2-10 shooting.
It was a very unique game, stemming from a very unique situation, featuring a very unique basketball player who has earned a very unique amount of admiration from a lot of people. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Kevin Garnett was beloved by everyone that followed the Timberwolves. Eight years later, he’s back, and clearly, nothing has changed. It was easy to tell. The introductions proved it.