February 26, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) All the years he'd been gone and all the thunderous standing ovations he received when he returned to Target Center with the Celtics and Nets, and Kevin Garnett still never fully realized just how much the Minnesota fans loved the franchise's biggest star.

Wearing that old No. 21 on his back for the first time in nearly eight years, Garnett's ears were finally open. And these Timberwolves fans who have suffered for so long since he was traded to Boston in 2007 unleashed a welcome home celebration so loud and so heartfelt that it finally hit home.

Garnett made an ear-splitting return to Minnesota and his Timberwolves overcame a jittery start to beat the Washington Wizards 97-77 on Wednesday night.

Garnett, reacquired in a trade from Brooklyn last week, had five points on 2-for-7 shooting with eight rebounds and two blocks in 19 minutes in his first game for Minnesota since 2007. But this night was never about his numbers or the result of the game. It was about welcoming a family member back home after a hiatus that had stretched for far too long.

''I've been back before and I never paid attention to how much love is here still for me because I'm too busy being focused on the game,'' Garnett said about his previous games at Target Center with Boston and Brooklyn. ''And tonight it was just over the top.

''I did not know the city missed me like this. I don't think that you can ever wish or ever think the city loves you like this. But to see it is reality and I'm very appreciative.''

Garnett spent his first 12 seasons in Minnesota, getting drafted as a skinny high-schooler in 1995 and growing into a 10-time All-Star, an MVP, and the man most responsible for putting the woebegone Timberwolves franchise on the map.

He was traded to Boston in 2007, and the hard feelings threatened to spoil the relationship between the Wolves and the face of their franchise.

But in one night, any of those lingering resentments were buried under an avalanche of standing ovations, serenades of ''KG! KG! KG!'' and nostalgic videos that highlighted all the memories Garnett formed with the team, and the fans, in his first tour here.

''That game was a tribute to the great Kevin Garnett,'' said Kevin Martin, who scored 28 points. ''He helped us get through the nerves in the first quarter and we took off from there.''

Andrew Wiggins had 19 and Nikola Pekovic added 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Wolves, who trailed by 15 early after Garnett's stirring reintroduction.

The lights went out and a goose-bump-inducing video was played showing Garnett highlights, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as Kanye West's ''Homecoming'' blared on the speakers. Garnett sat on the bench with his head down the entire time, but popped up as his name was announced and a thunderous ovation rained down from the 19,856 in attendance.

''I looked into the crowd and saw my friends and family,'' Garnett said. ''I'm glad my daughters were here to see that. It was just a special time. I can't even put it into words.''

All the energy may have been a little too much for the Wolves early. They missed 13 of their first 14 shots and fell behind 18-3.

Target Center has been so quiet during the 7 1/2 years Garnett was away. The Wolves were 187-426 since trading him, never once sniffing a playoff berth.

They are still just 13-43 this year, in last place in the Western Conference. But with Garnett back in the fold and a promising young core including Wiggins, Ricky Rubio and Gorgui Dieng, it's starting to become cool to like the NBA in this town again.

''I was jealous about this crowd,'' Rubio said. ''I want this crowd every day. We have to give this crowd a reason. We're hungry. We're never going to cry. ... I think we're on the right path.''

The night ended with Garnett stuffing one last Wizards possession, hollering to the crowd that ''It's over! It's over!'' and leaving to chants of ''KG! KG! KG!''

''I thank everybody who came out and showed love,'' Garnett said. ''To the city, I'm happy to be here and hoping we can get some more wins and give this city something to be excited about.''

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TIP-INS

Wizards: Marcin Gortat had nine points and 15 rebounds for the Wizards, who have lost five in a row and 10 of their last 12. John Wall had five points on 2-for-10 shooting and 10 assists, and Paul Pierce missed the game with a bruised knee. ... Kris Humphries left the game in the second quarter and did not return because of a strained left hamstring.

Timberwolves: The 77 points allowed were a season-low for the Wolves. ... Blasts from the Wolves' past were everywhere, including Jiggly Boy, a burly fan who takes his shirt off and dances during breaks. This time he had ''Welcome Back KG'' written on his chest, and Garnett saluted him and chuckled.

UP NEXT

Wizards: At Philadelphia on Friday night.

Timberwolves: At Chicago on Friday night.

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