Kevin Garnett was lying on the hardwood in pain, yet ecstatic, after saving the game for the Celtics against his former team.
Boston beat struggling Minnesota (and six former Celtics), 87-86, last night in an emotional game before a sellout crowd at TD Banknorth Garden. Garnett, who played for the Timberwolves for 12 seasons, stole the ball from ex-Celtics guard Sebastian Telfair at midcourt with 1.8 seconds left to seal the win.
"This was a real emotional game just because of the history between these two teams," Garnett said. "It felt like, for the most part, that we didn't play good basketball at all."
The Celtics improved to an NBA-best 34-7, while the Wolves are an NBA-worst 7-35. Boston is now 7-1 after a loss.
"We didn't deserve to win that game, but down the stretch we did enough to pull it out," said Ray Allen, who had 12 points on 4-of-18 shooting and five turnovers.
Said coach Doc Rivers: "We were very lucky to win."
The Celtics acquired Garnett from the Wolves July 31 for Telfair (18 points, 6 assists), Al Jefferson (15 points), Ryan Gomes (13 points), Gerald Green (9 points), the injured Theo Ratliff (knee surgery), and two first-round draft picks. The Wolves' roster also includes ex-Celtic Antoine Walker (3 points, 4 steals) and former Boston College star Craig Smith (10 rebounds).
While Jefferson, Gomes, Green, and Smith got a positive response from the crowd, Telfair and Walker received a mixture of cheers and boos. Jefferson pumped his chest after one basket, Green winked at the Celtics' bench after hitting a jumper, and Jefferson and Garnett received matching technicals in the third quarter for trash-talking.
"We understood that Minnesota was going to come in real emotional about the trades," said Paul Pierce, who had a near triple-double for the Celtics with 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, but also committed a game-high six turnovers.
Said Jefferson: "It feels good, man, to come out and play the best team in the NBA and have a chance to win the game."
Garnett acknowledged he has been battling an abdominal injury, "but not for long." Rivers said it is something he will have to keep an eye on. Garnett is scheduled to receive treatment today at the Celtics' training facility in Waltham, but there will be no practice.
With 6:19 remaining and the Wolves ahead, 75-69, the Celtics called a timeout after Garnett went to the bench in pain. He eventually went to the locker room with team doctor Brian McKeon.
"I wasn't going to do anything that was going to jeopardize my future," Garnett said. "My philosophy has always been that if I can play, I can run, I can move, I can blink, I can wake up in the morning, I can play. I wasn't sure what the score was."
A jumper by Telfair gave the Wolves an 82-76 lead with 4:33 remaining. With 2:19 left and Minnesota up, 84-81, Garnett returned to the bench during a timeout.
"I wasn't going to put him in," Rivers said. "He begged and said, 'I'm going to go in if you don't put me in. Please put me in.' I've got Dr. McKeon giving me the thumbs up and [trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] giving me the thumbs down. Kevin was just psycho, which was good."
Telfair's running lay-in along the baseline gave the Wolves an 86-81 lead with 2:01 left. Garnett returned to the game with 1:51 remaining, at which time Pierce hit two free throws to trim Boston's deficit to 86-83. Pierce's lay-in with 23.2 seconds left made it 86-85. Rookie Corey Brewer then was unable to inbound the ball, and Minnesota was hit with a five-second violation.
"It was me being kind of slow, I guess," Brewer said. "I had five seconds. I made a mistake. I've got to call time out quicker than that. They had the guys covered, but Al [Jefferson] was open in the backcourt. I should have thrown it to him."
The Celtics then called a 20-second timeout. After a missed layup by Allen, a tip-in by Kendrick Perkins (21 points) with 16.6 seconds left gave Boston the lead, 87-86.
With 10.3 seconds left, Marko Jaric inbounded to Jefferson. When Jefferson was quickly double-teamed, he got the ball to Telfair near the top of the key.
With the clock winding down, Garnett knocked the ball away from Telfair and dived to the floor to secure it as the buzzer sounded. A jubilant Garnett then bounced around the floor, proudly displaying the "Celtics" on his jersey to crowd.
"I knew it was Sebastian, so I wanted to scoot up on him and try to make him drive the ball," Garnett said. "I was able to count his dribbles. It went one, two, and I know he likes to crossover [dribble]. I stabbed at it and got it and I just dived. I knew time was running down and I just wanted to be aggressive on the ball."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org