MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – As much as Kevin Garnett wants everyone to believe he’s put the Minnesota Timberwolves in his rearview mirror, he’s still been watching – and listening.
The 35-year-old Garnett has heard some suggest that 23-year-old Kevin Love has already usurped him as the best Timberwolves player ever.
Love may one day get there. But not today. The Old Wolf showed the Young Pup who still runs things in Minnesota.
Garnett had 24 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in his return to Target Center and the Boston Celtics outmuscled Love and the Timberwolves in a 100-79 victory Friday night.
“We’ve been watching, keeping track of all his accolades and what he’s been doing of late,” Garnett said of Love. “If y’all know anything about me, you know that I was more than ready and prepared tonight.”
Paul Pierce had 21 points and nine rebounds, and Rajon Rondo had 17 assists for the Celtics, who have won four in a row and six of their last seven. They’re all alone in first place in the Atlantic Division for the first time all season, and that’s with Ray Allen missing the last five games with a sore right ankle.
Love had 22 points and 11 rebounds, but succumbed to Garnett’s physical defense in a battle between the face of the Timberwolves past and present.
“Kevin is the best player to ever play here and Kevin Love has a chance to be that as well or one of them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought both were probably up for it. I know I would have been if it was me.”
Luke Ridnour had 15 points and eight assists, but the Wolves turned the ball over 21 times to see their playoff hopes take a hit. They entered 2 1/2 games out of the eighth spot in the West.
Garnett improved to 6-0 against the Wolves, including 4-0 at Target Center since he was traded in 2007.
He has been playing with a little extra spring in his step since Rivers moved him to center at the All-Star break, and so have the Celtics, who are 14-5 since the break.
It was the third straight game Garnett has topped 20 points, his longest streak of the season.
He bodied up Love – his heir apparent in Minnesota – on defense and knocked down open jumper after open jumper on the other end to set the tone.
The old man even threw down an alley-oop in transition in the third quarter and put the game on ice with his patented turnaround jumper over Love that made it 92-78 with four minutes to play.
“I think KG took it personal tonight,” Wolves forward Anthony Tolliver said. “I’m sure he’s been hearing a lot of stuff about Kevin Love being the best power forward in the league.”
Without Montenegrin heavy Nikola Pekovic (ankle) by his side in the paint, Love had a hard time going toe-to-toe with the physical Celtics.
Garnett spent 12 seasons in Minnesota, nearly single-handedly turning the woebegone franchise into a perennial playoff team that made a run to the Western Conference finals in 2004. The deeply loyal Garnett didn’t want to leave when the Timberwolves traded him. But when the deal was made, things turned sour.
Timberwolves executives were unhappy with Garnett’s demeanor behind the scenes and Garnett seethed over a perceived lack of loyalty from the organization, particularly when owner Glen Taylor alleged that KG “tanked it” at the end of the 2006-07 season by sitting on the bench with injuries.
Earlier this week, he was quoted as saying he loves Minnesota and the fans who cheered for him so passionately, but had “nothing positive to say” about the organization.
During the second quarter, Garnett was taking the ball out of bounds and a fan hollered: “Hey Kevin, please come back next year!” Garnett simply muttered: “No way.”
The Wolves have a new face of the franchise in Love, who has put together a monster March – averaging 31.3 points, 14.1 rebounds and shooting 46 percent from 3-point range coming into the game – to keep the short-handed Wolves hanging around the playoff conversation.
But he couldn’t live up to Garnett’s legacy Friday night.
“Two totally different players. The only thing that’s really the same about us two is our first names,” Love said. “It’s a really unfair comparison. He’s a once-in-a-generation, once-in-a-lifetime type player.
“If I could do some of the things that he did for this franchise, it would be nice. More than anything, I just want to win and he brought a lot of winning years to this franchise. Hopefully more than anything I can try to emulate that.”
Notes: Rondo has at least 10 assists in 12 straight games, the longest active streak in the league. … Avery Bradley scored 17 points for Boston. … The Wolves were also missing JJ Barea (thigh) and Michael Beasley (toe). Barea said he will not make the upcoming road trip to Portland and Sacramento. … Vanilla Ice performed at halftime.
By JON KRAWCZYNSKI (AP Sports Writer)
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.