MINNEAPOLIS — There were no words spoken by the Minnesota Timberwolves’ all-time leader in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks Friday night. But the first-year Celtics star’s gestures and smile spoke volumes when he waved hello to Wolves fans for the first time since saying goodbye.
The Kevin Garnett-less Celtics beat the Wolves, 88-86, at the Target Center. Minnesota fans were crushed because they were unable to watch their former megastar play again in his old home. He missed his sixth straight game with an abdominal strain (and the Celtics are 4-2 in that span).
Leon Powe scored the game-winner on a putback at the buzzer, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds. Paul Pierce scored 18 points and teammate Ray Allen added 17. Minnesota received 18 points from ex-Celtic Al Jefferson and 16 points and seven rebounds from ex-Boston College star Craig Smith.
The 12-year Wolves legend received a load ovation from Minnesotans when he was announced prior to pregame introductions.
Garnett was acquired July 31 in a blockbuster trade for Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, and Theo Ratliff.
Garnett did not speak to the media, but in his last comments Wednesday about wanting to play in the Minnesota game, he 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.’’
A media horde primarily from Minneapolis attended Friday morning’s shootaround in hopes of talking to Garnett. However, he was working out elsewhere and wasn’t available. Wolves players stood alongside media members as they waited for the Celtics to finish shootaround and were stunned by how much press was on hand.
‘‘I have never seen this many people at our shootaround,’’ Wolves rookie forward Corey Brewer said.
As Pierce walked by the media after shootaround, he joked: ‘‘All these people are here for my return to Minnesota.’’
As soon as the Celtics’ locker room door opened before tipoff, media members swarmed the room in hopes of talking to Garnett. But he never stopped by the locker room.
The Wolves originally hadn’t planned to do anything special for Garnett’s return. When asked if a tribute was necessary, Wolves coach Randy Wittman said: ‘‘I don’t understand. What’s a tribute? Usually that’s just if somebody’s dead, isn’t it?’’
The Wolves decided they would pay tribute to Garnett by announcing him prior to starting lineups. Following the national anthem, Garnett walked in through the west tunnel slowly, wearing a long jacket, dress shirt, tie, jeans, and white tennis shoes. He received a loud standing ovation. The Target Center JumboTron showed a picture of Garnett holding his 2004 NBA MVP trophy and displayed the words: ‘‘Thanks for the Memories, KG.’’
Garnett seemed moved by the loud 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 old friends and fans who appreciated him for so long. The crowd was littered with Garnett Wolves and Celtics jerseys. And after the impressive homecoming ovation ended after two minutes, Garnett disappeared, walking back through the tunnel. He has spent the previous road games during his absence in the locker room instead of on the bench, and did the same Friday night.
The Wolves owned a 45-40 lead at halftime after scoring 26 points in the paint and 9 second-chance points. No Celtics starter had more than 6 points by intermission. Boston’s 40 points at halftime were 4 shy of a season low. Brewer had a game-high 11 points at halftime, while Celtics reserve Eddie House had a team-high 9. Allen missed 6 of 7 shots in the first half for 5 points, while Pierce had 6 points on 3-of-5 shooting.
After being down, 51-40, the Celtics went on a 15-2 run capped by a Rajon Rondo lay-in with 4:11 remaining in the third to take a 55-53 lead. The Wolves finished the third with a 66-62 lead.
Kendrick Perkins left in the third quarter with a strained left shoulder after he was injured going for a rebound. Perkins had 1 point and five rebounds, and will be evaluated Saturday.
The Celtics opened the fourth quarter with a 10-2 run to take a 72-68 lead on a Powe dunk.
Another Powe dunk gave Boston an 84-80 lead with 2:59 left. Two straight jumpers by Jefferson tied the game at 84 with 2:05 remaining. A dunk by Smith gave the Wolves an 86-84 lead with 38.7 seconds left. Rondo tied the game at 86 by nailing a 19-foot jumper with 28.6 seconds remaining. After Allen was blocked on a layup attempt, Powe converted the winner that was deemed good after a video review.
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org