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It's reunion time at Garden tonight

Al Jefferson comes to the Garden fresh off a 39-point performance. Al Jefferson comes to the Garden fresh off a 39-point performance. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)
Email|Print| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / January 25, 2008

Former Celtics forward Al Jefferson described his return to TD Banknorth Garden tonight as just another road game for the Timberwolves. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett sees his first regular-season game against his team of the previous 12 years as no big deal, either.

But considering the game includes five Celtics from last season in Wolves' clothing, plus former Celtics star Antoine Walker and former Boston College star Craig Smith, it will be interesting to see whether Jefferson, Garnett, and the others feel blasé afterward.

"It's going to be like another road trip to me," said Jefferson Wednesday after a 117-107 upset of the Suns. "I'm not looking at it no different than going to Phoenix."

The Celtics acquired Garnett, who was named to his 11th All-Star team last night, in a blockbuster trade during the offseason for a budding star in Jefferson, forward Ryan Gomes, guards Sebas tian Telfair and Gerald Green, center Theo Ratliff, and two first-round draft picks.

With three perennial All-Stars in Garnett, Paul Pierce, and newcomer Ray Allen, Boston was expected to go from doormat to contender. And with Garnett, the rejuvenated Celtics have exceeded expectations with an NBA-best 33-7 record. That ties a franchise record reached by four other Celtics teams.

"They're winning the games they're supposed to be winning," Gomes said. "The teams that have been around for a while and been together they've had a tough time with. It's still early in the season. There are still 40-some games left, so you never know what can happen. But watching the games when we're not playing, when they play Detroit, Orlando early in the year, those are the teams they're going to have to face later on in the Eastern Conference [playoffs].

"Every night, teams are gunning for them because they know the new additions they have and they want to be the team to knock them off. They've handled it well."

Garnett is the Timberwolves' all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks, steals, and assists. He said after practice yesterday that he doesn't expect his old franchise to do anything special for him when he returns to Minneapolis Feb. 8 and will have no problems with that, either. The 2004 MVP played against the Timberwolves in an exhibition game in London.

Garnett said he has spent very little time keeping up with the Wolves, has no regrets for the loyalty he showed them, and has little connection with them anymore since most of his old teammates are gone.

"I thank the fans for being behind me," said Garnett. "Minnesota knows they have a special place in my heart when it comes to people there that I had a connection with. But I'm in Boston and I'm enjoying it."

The Wolves involved in the Garnett trade endured a 24-win campaign with the Celtics last season, second worst in the NBA, and a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak. Although the Wolves have won two straight, they own an NBA-worst 7-34 record and are 2-20 on the road.

So when the old Celtics return to the Garden, those bad times will likely return to mind.

"The only thing good about that is I'm going to see my family, a lot of my younger siblings and friends I met when I was back in Boston," said Gomes, a former Providence College star. "But otherwise, it's a game we've got to try to go in and win. [I was] there for two years and now they've got a little bit different type of team.

"It's going to be a challenge for us because a lot of us played there before, even Antoine. The emotions are going to be high and the intensity's going to be high."

When asked to reflect on the tough times with the ex-Celtics, coach Doc Rivers said: "I don't know if I want to, to be honest. I'd rather think of the good times I had with them coaching. They are terrific kids. All of them. Fun to coach. They improved each month, each day . . .

"We had to be one of the few teams that had the record we had and had very little turmoil. The team was extremely close. They're good people. You wanted them all do to well. Not [tonight]."

Rivers added that because Minnesota acquired Jefferson, the perception that vice president of basketball operations and former Celtic Kevin McHale didn't get much back for Garnett is erroneous. The 6-foot-10-inch, 256-pound Jefferson is averaging 20.8 points, 12.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 1.5 steals. He had a career-high 39 points and 15 rebounds against Phoenix.

"There's this whole Celtics conspiracy that McHale will be president in two years," Rivers said. "Kevin McHale wanted to get the best young player he could get if he was going to trade Kevin Garnett. He got him. There was a not another young player he could have gotten better than Al Jefferson, and he got other players with that."

As for tonight, Jefferson said: "That would be real special [to beat Boston]. We beat the best team in the West [Wednesday]. Why not try to go beat the best team in the East?"

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com.

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