I remember the first time I saw Kevin Garnett in person.
It was 1995. I was around 12 years old, and my dad took me to watch the Wolves play the Houston Rockets. We were about halfway up the lower deck, just left of the baseline. I'm a 6th grader, so I don't know much about basketball except that everyone is a lot taller than me. But my dad knows, so when Flip sends this skinny teenager in against Hakeem the Dream, the first thing he says is, "Man, this kid is about to die..."
I remember that moment as clear as day, even though I didn't know what he meant at the time. Now, of course, I do, and dad was probably right - Hakeem was arguably the best basketball player on the planet at the time. Garnett was mere months removed from high school. The league was different then. Players regularly spent 2-3 years at college; they were already men by their rookie seasons. It was a league of grown men.
But because KG was KG, he didn't get bulldozed. In fact, he thrived.
This blog has never covered Kevin Garnett. We started the year he was traded. So I was already expecting tonight to be an experience - we were finally going to get a share of Kevin Garnett's playing career. A share that, quite frankly, I feel we deserve. His enduring legacy will be as a Timberwolf. This is where he made his career. We had him first.
But nothing...and I do mean nothing....could have prepared me for this.
Flip was worried the team would be so nervous and amped up that they'd tank the start of the game. Flip was right. The Wolves opened by shooting 0-9. They completed the first quarter with just 11 points. It took them nearly 16 minutes to tally more made field goals than turnovers. And yes, a lot of that was nerves. Garnett was visibly surprised by the reception, but was playing his game. But the rest of the guys looked like they had accidentally walked into Buckingham Palace.
And then they started making shots. Well, Kevin Martin started making shots. And when he's making shots like he was tonight, that's about all you need. KMart pulled the Wolves even in the second quarter, then Wiggins drowned the Wizards in the third, scoring 13 points to lead a 32 point period. And that was it. The Wizards gave up. The fourth quarter was just going through the motions.
Garnett had a pretty pedestrian line: 5 points on 7 FGA, 8 rebounds, a couple assists and blocks in about 20 minutes of play. Honestly, that's probably going to be about his average box score this year, so get used to it. He's no longer the guy that you double take over when you open the paper in the morning. As we looked at before, his value is on the glass and on defense, where he effectively positioned his teammates and made the Wolves look competent jumping the pick and roll (!!!!!!!!!)
But the things is, halfway through the game, the score became genuinely immaterial. I didn't realize the Wolves had tied it until I checked the scoreboard for the halftime Tweet. And for basically the rest of the game, I didn't pay attention to the score, nor felt any need to. No one did. The night was about Garnett. The game was just details.
I arrived at 5:30 and the line was already out the door of the skyway. I walked to the media table and fans by the tunnel were so excited they wanted high fives. Everyone stood up when the team took the floor and didn't sit down for 15 minutes. They literally stood the entire pre-game warmup just to watch KG do layup drills.
The entire Target Center is still standing to watch KG do layup lines. This is unreal pic.twitter.com/bS48cj8Shr— Key Sang (@Phantele_) February 26, 2015
If I were to estimate, there were probably 500 fans or so who didn't sit the entire game. Not even counting El Rubio section. And Garnett got 12 full standing ovations throughout the night, mostly for doing very ordinary things. Garnett rebounds. Everyone stands. Garnett blocks Nene. Everyone stands. Garnett went 1-2 at the free throw line with all of sections 100-103 chanting MVP at him. That's how much the guy means.
The reception clearly rocked KG as well, and he visibly broke 'character' several times during the game - something that's unheard of in him. He looked every bit the wound up rookie he said he felt like during introductions (although that didn't last long). He even took a moment to salute a fan who re-enacted a moment from 15 years ago, when he painted KG's name on his chest, took his shirt off, and danced in the isle.
"I think that if you saw a fat guy with everything out, dancing with your name on his chest, I think you would pay attention to that for at least five seconds. I had to give him a big shout out and show him it was all love."
The Wolves pulled out all the stops as well. They had fireworks and smoke and a beautiful welcome home video for Garnett's intro, complete with Rod Johnson's classic FROM FARRAGUT ACADEMY HIGH SCHOOL
The rest of the night featured several more Garnett tribute videos. They even pulled out the classic Garnett GET OUT YO SEATS bit for the start of the fourth quarter.
As the game went on, Garnett got more and more into it. He clearly has a comfort level with his new teammates, particularly Martin. High fives for everyone, and bench time was spent either walking teammates through sets or yelling out defensive coverage to the guys on the floor. He never quit talking on defense when he was playing, and true to form, I saw him explicitly point or even grab and drag guys to the right spot defensively at least six times.
In the third quarter, he jumped off the bench and called for noise. Standing ovation #8. And I wish you guys could have experienced his late-game stop. I know you all saw it, but being (nearly) at floor level was an adventure. Garnett trapped the ball, then looked directly at myself and Tim Faklis, ran his hand across his throat and screamed NO. NO.
And even though the game was easily won, Flip had the good sense to put Garnett back in late in the fourth quarter just so he could get one last standing ovation when he checked back out. Target Center stood, roared, and didn't sit the rest of the game, serenading Garnett with chants of KG KG KG as he ran back into the tunnel.
Chants of KG as he comes off the court https://t.co/ClVuSHNlck— Key Sang (@Phantele_) February 26, 2015
I've talked before about how athletes are like superheroes. They unite people that otherwise wouldn't have anything to do with each other and get them to cheer for a common cause. The history of sports legend is a lexicon of men and women uniting and inspiring people...cities, states, nations....and giving them a reason to hope. The DREAM Team. MIRACLE on Ice. That's what Garnett is for 'Sota; he's a hero, for a state that quite frankly is in short supply of heroes.
I'm sure I cannot do justice to the atmosphere tonight. It was beyond euphoric. Game 7 against Sacramento amperage. The electricity was a drug, and you got high just by being in the building. All for one guy. This state, this city, loves Kevin Garnett in a way I don't think can ever be properly put into words, even by the man himself.
"I did not know this 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."
- Tonight, it was more apparent than ever that keeping Kevin Martin (not that there was any real doubt) was the right decision. Not only is he still an unmatched scoring weapon on this team, but he and Garnett speak the same language. It's important to have guys who KG can see as peers on the team, so it doesn't start feeling like a babysitting job for him.
- Andrew Wiggins is something else, and he played with impact tonight. He looked very comfortable with Garnett as a player and a person, and KG's presence seemed to fuel a new level of attack in him.
- It cannot be overstated how much Garnett can benefit this team's defense. Nearly every defensive position he was on the floor for had him directing or correcting a teammate. The Wizards aren't a great spacing team to begin with, but KG's constant motion threw them off even more. Several times, KG sent teammates to specific spots on the floor so they would occupy Washington's favorite shooting zones before any Wizard could get there.
- Speaking of the Wizards, they have three GREAT pick and roll players in Wall, Nene and Marcin Gortat. And they hardly ever use any of them in the pick and roll. It's a complete waste. John Wall is a freak athlete and pinpoint passer, and all of that is just getting thrown away on horizontal midrange motion. Ugh.
- Adreian Payne has a shot selection problem. He needs to fix that. But he rebounds with force and makes enough defensive plays to make you think he just needs time to get used to his team and the speed of the NBA. Garnett likes him, for sure.
- Get to a game, people. I guarantee you, there are several sellout crowds worth of fans who weren't able to get into this one. Be a part of the excitement of the next one.