K.G. delivers reminder of just how fun winning a big game can be

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 29, 2007 - 10:58 PM

With a dominant performance that got even better in crunch time, the Wolves star wowed not only the Target Center crowd but also the NBA's hottest team.

May 29, 2004. Timberwolves 98, Los Angeles Lakers 96. Thirty points and 19 rebounds for Kevin Garnett.

That was the fifth game of the Western Conference finals, and the last time the Target Center customers had as much fun watching the Timberwolves as they did on Monday night. It also could be the last time the home crowd left downtown Minneapolis with such grand appreciation for Garnett.

The Wolves ended the Phoenix Suns' 17-game winning streak Monday, and they did so because Garnett willed in one big shot after another down the stretch.

Garnett went 18-for-29 from the field and finished with 44 points. He also led both teams with 11 rebounds.

"They came down and wouldn't miss," the Suns' Raja Bell said. "K.G. hit some amazing shots."

Jalen Rose, the veteran now stuck on the Phoenix bench, was getting in civilian clothes in the next locker. He nodded toward Bell and said, "Yeah, he might have a future in this league."

Bell offered a similar one-liner in return, then Rose said, "I would never trade K.G. ... never."

Garnett was so deadly with his jumpers -- in and above traffic -- that the Suns offered no complaints about the end of their winning streak.

"It's better to lose that way than to lose when we beat ourselves," Steve Nash said. "Kevin was sensational. We just didn't make shots at the end ... not at the clip Kevin was making them."

Nash, the two-time MVP, matched Garnett's excellence going into the fourth quarter. When the point guard returned with 8:36 remaining, the Suns were leading 101-100.

At that point, he was 6-for-8 from the field, with 17 points, 17 assists and three turnovers. The Suns had outscored the Wolves 85-69 when he was on floor and were outscored 31-16 during the 12 ½ minutes that Nash rested.

Nash seemed a contender to reach his career high of 22 assists. Instead, the Wolves used a combative zone to take him out of his game. He was 1-for-6, had three points with one assist and two turnovers in the final 8 ½ minutes.

The crowd announced at 16,221 was roaring through the fourth quarter, as K.G. drained six jumpers varying in distance from 10 to 20 feet. Yet, there always seemed to be some hesitation in those roars, as if these were fans trained to expect the worst from the Wolves in the 32 months since that last playoff victory over the Lakers.

Finally, Garnett hit a 15-footer with 1:58 left to make it 118-109, and the locals put their full throats into the roar -- a blast of noise that said, "This really is going to happen."

The target practice on basketball boss Kevin McHale might have reached a peak last week, when he fired Dwane Casey and moved up Randy Wittman to head coach. The critics were smirking when the Wolves looked very Wolves-like in Wittman's first two games, losing late to a pair of lousy teams: Portland and Seattle.

Garnett contributed to the loss at Portland with an awful defensive play, and he offered the familiar crunch-time clang off the rim against Seattle.

Garnett shares a strong defense mechanism with many great athletes. Not often does he concede to a problem in his game. He did place the Portland and Seattle defeats on his shoulders, although not until the Wolves gave Wittman his first victory against the Clippers on Saturday night.

On Monday, it was Garnett's task to deflect praise toward others -- Wittman's game plan, Ricky Davis' and Randy Foye's big shots, his teammates' aggressive defense against Nash -- rather than allow himself to be overwhelmed in accolades.

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