BOSTON — At this point in his storied NBA career, Kevin Garnett does not play in the second game of back-to-backs. That’s just the way it is.
So, because Garnett logged 10 minutes Sunday in a win over the Brooklyn Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Sam Mitchell made it abundantly clear that he would not play his 39-year-old big man the following night, regardless of the fact that the Timberwolves were in Garnett’s beloved Boston to take on his former team, the Celtics.
“If you start listening to the fans,” Mitchell said, “you’re going to be sitting up there with them.”
Mitchell did not listen to the fans Monday night, but he certainly heard them. It would have been impossible not to.
Though the Celtics defeated the T-Wolves 113-99 on Monday to snap a three-game losing streak, most of the fans in attendance at TD Garden seemed far more focused on the Minnesota bench, where Garnett remained for the game’s duration. Chants of “We want KG” began early in the first quarter and continued throughout the night — a plea from Celtics Nation for Mitchell to give them even one glimpse of the man who helped lead Boston to its 17th NBA title.
“I really wanted them to stop that, because I didn’t know if Sam was actually going to put me in there,” Garnett said after the game. “It was cool. The unconditional appreciation is overwhelming.”
They didn’t stop, instead modifying their message to “Thank you, KG” after it became clear Mitchell was not going to stray from his game plan. Even those on the Celtics’ bench, the vast majority of whom never have shared a locker room with Garnett, enjoyed the electricity.
“Amazing,” forward Jae Crowder told reporters. “Loved it. That’s what it’s all about, just paying respect to a legend. I loved it.”
“I was not chanting loudly,” head coach Brad Stevens added, “but maybe under my breath.”
The KG-mania reached a fever pitch when, with 1:02 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Celtics up big, Stevens called for a timeout. It was time for a Garnett favorite: Gino Time.
As the soulful stylings of the Bee Gees filled the Garden air and that ridiculous ’70s dance footage that serves as the Celtics’ metaphorical victory cigar played on the Jumbotron, Garnett walked onto the court he dominated for six seasons and, with tears in his eyes, saluted the crowd.
“It’s hard to even come into this building and not want to play,” Garnett said. “But the appreciation that not only the city, but the (Massachusetts) area and the Northeast give me, the love is unconditional, and I’m very appreciative of it.
“… I like to say that Minnesota made me a young man. I grew up when I came to Boston.”
Garnett no longer is a young man, or even a man in the prime of his career. He’s a man who will turn 40 in less than six months and has spent more than half of his life in the NBA.
There’s a strong chance Monday night’s game was the last the surefire Hall of Famer will play on the TD Garden parquet. In fact, it’d be almost surprising if he plays another. But he’s not ready to talk about that just yet.
“I just wanted to say thank y’all for all the appreciation tonight,” Garnett said when the question of retirement came up in his postgame news conference. “And on that note, I’m exiting.”
And exit he did.
Thumbnail photo via Charles Krupa/Associated Press