MINNEAPOLIS - Leon Powe was happy to provide a win for the Celtics, and for "the big fella" who earned the nickname "The Big Ticket" in this town.
Powe's put-back at the buzzer lifted the Celtics to an 88-86 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves last night. Injured Celtic Kevin Garnett did not play, but received a standing ovation when he was introduced to the sellout crowd before tipoff. Boston is now 4-2 without Garnett (abdominal strain) and 15-0 against Western Conference opponents.
"We needed it, man," Powe said. "We wanted to do it for the big fella. Big fella has been working hard to get back. Hopefully, he will be back with us soon."
The Celtics went up, 84-80, with 2:59 remaining on a dunk by Powe. The Wolves responded with a 6-0 spurt, capped by a dunk from ex-Boston College star Craig Smith (16 points, seven rebounds) with 38.9 seconds left.
Rajon Rondo tied the score at 86 with a 19-foot jumper with 28.9 seconds left. The Wolves then called a timeout. Celtics coach Doc Rivers told Ray Allen to bump Minnesota's Al Jefferson (18 points, nine rebounds) to disrupt any final play. Allen did just that, and it worked.
Instead of Jefferson attempting a potential game-winner, Marko Jaric (7 points) missed a jumper. The ball ended up in Allen's hands and he darted downcourt with time running out. As Allen went up for a lay-in, he felt he was fouled by Jaric, and missed the shot.
"He just grabbed me," said Allen, who had 17 points. "He knocked the ball and came across me."
Luckily for the Celtics, Powe was trailing the play and converted Allen's miss at the buzzer. After the referees checked a replay, Boston's win was official. Powe had 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds in 27 minutes, and said the hoop was his first buzzer-beater.
"I looked up at the clock and there was 5.4 [seconds]," said Powe. "They only had one person back and we had four people. I said, 'Let me run as fast as I can.' Hopefully, if he missed I was going to tip it in. But I didn't know about the clock, so I said, 'Just grab it, put it in, and be sure.' The clock was on my side.
"I just made a good hustle play, that's it. I didn't do anything extra. It wasn't like it was a fadeaway Michael Jordan shot."
The Celtics also beat the Wolves in Boston (87-86) on Jan. 25. Garnett sealed that win with a steal.
"Tonight was a tough one," said Wolves coach Randy Wittman. "We had them beat twice. We're 0-2. That's the bottom line."
Said Rivers: "We don't want to see them anymore. That's for sure. It's two games that came down to the last play."
Garnett is the Wolves' all-time leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, and was the face of the franchise for 12 years. He did not speak to the media yesterday, but on Wednesday, when asked if he wanted to play in the Minnesota game, Garnett said: "That's a given. You all can come up with that answer yourselves. But like I said, this picture's just bigger than one or two days or what's around the corner."
While the Wolves originally didn't plan to do anything special marking Garnett's return, they eventually decided to pay tribute by introducing him prior to the Celtics' starting lineup. Garnett walked in slowly through the west tunnel wearing a long jacket, dress shirt, tie, jeans, and white tennis shoes. While the crowd gave him a standing ovation, the JumboTron displayed a picture of Garnett holding his 2003-04 NBA MVP trophy along with the words: "Thanks for the memories, KG."
"It was terrific. It was what should have been done," Rivers said. "It's not always about the player and the team. It's about the player and the fans. And the fans got a chance to cheer and say hi to Kevin."
Garnett seemed moved by the roar as he stood in front of the Celtics' bench. He smiled widely, waved his left hand to the crowd, patted his heart, and pointed at the fans who appreciated him for so long. There were many Garnett jerseys, both Timberwolves and Celtics versions, in the arena. And after an ovation of approximately two minutes, Garnett walked back to the locker room, where he has been watching games during his absence.
"That was real touching," said Powe, who had made it a special night for another reason.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org