By Patrick Reusse, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) –
The debate before Friday night’s game at Target Center was whether Kevin Garnett in his prime or Kevin Love as a 23-year-old stats monster was the best player in Timberwolves history.
Garnett still has enough pals to be aware that this conversation was taking place in the Twin Cities dailies and on sports talk radio.
Anyone raising this issue did no favors to Love. Tom Hanneman, the Wolves’ TV play-by-play announcer, said he was told by his Boston peers that they had not seen Garnett so fired up before a game in a couple of years.
That’s not a surprise to anyone who watched Garnett in his 12 seasons in Minnesota. If we learned anything, it was that any hint of disrespect turned KG from merely a fierce competitor to an uncaged lion.
And during the 34 minutes of hell that Garnett brought to the Target Center court, he changed the parameters of the debate to this: Who is the best power forward in the NBA today — Love at 23, with all those numbers, or Garnett at 35, who remains aware that a big effort on defense can be as decisive as saving your energy to play offense?
Love finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Garnett finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds. So, if you have a rose-colored view of Love, you could declare the matchup to have been a draw.
There would be one more requirement to take such a stance: that you didn’t watch the game.
The score was 100-79 for Boston, the largest margin of defeat in the Wolves’ 28 losses this season. Garnett went 12-for-18 from the field, compared to Love’s 5-for-18.
Garnett went face up on Love from the start, turned him over to Brandon Bass or Greg Stiemsma on occasion, but always came back to Love when necessary to grab and push for defensive position. Any Wolves fan complaining about that has not watched Love grab and push all season to get into offensive position.
The shorthanded Wolves, Love included, basically gave up in the fourth quarter, being outscored 21-12. The coaches declared full-scale garbage time when both Love and Garnett left with 89 seconds remaining.
Later, more than a dozen reporters waited for Garnett to appear at his locker in the visitors’ locker room. When he showed, Garnett talked in low tones but with a few barbs if you listened close enough.
“I thought our defense was good … solid,” KG said. “You know, Kevin Love is really good, very solid … very, very offensive-minded. He knows we’ve been watching him, keeping track of all his accolades.”
Asked about the Wolves’ fourth-quarter fadeaway, Garnett said: “It’s a situation where I know Kevin don’t really play a lot of defense, but he does get a lot of rebounds and a lot of threes.
“I felt like I had an advantage and I took it … wasn’t nothing more than that. (Rajon) Rondo called my number a couple of times, and I know this building very well, and I’m very comfortable in this building.
“So, you know, I sort of reverted back to 2004.”
Garnett drew a few laughs from the Minnesota media with that reference — to the season when he was the MVP and took the Wolves to the Western Conference finals.
He was asked about the reaction from the Target Center crowd — mostly cheers — and KG said: “My time is past. It’s Kevin Love’s time now. I totally understand that. I’m grateful for the applause of the fans and very appreciative of the Twin Cities.”
Love is as much the face of the franchise today as Garnett was for those eight playoff seasons from 1997 through 2004. But on Friday night, Love paid the price for the rush of the new Wolves audience to declare him to be the team’s best Kevin ever.
“(Garnett) came in here with an extra edge,” Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver said. “From the very beginning, defensively, he was all over K-Love.
“The coaches and K-Love were trying to get the referees to call something. He was holding and grabbing, but that’s a veteran. He knows what he can get away with and what he can’t. KG did a great job.
“He knows what to do, how to win. He looked like his old self tonight.”
What Minnesotans learned again on this night in Target Center was this: You never want to take on Kevin Garnett after he’s been poked with a stick.