Kevin Garnett is working to fit in, lift his game
He was like the mayor -- shaking hands, doling out bear hugs and exchanging verbal pleasantries in his booming voice.
Kevin Garnett was once again in his former element, playing in the city where he first made his mark on the league straight out of high school in 1995. Garnett didn't even have to make the rounds. Everyone seemed to flock toward him as if he had a flute in his mouth and was belting out some hypnotizing notes.
"It's always good to come back to Minnesota," Garnett said before the Nets met the Timberwolves at the Target Center Friday night. "The Twin Cities have always been considered a second or third home. I've always enjoyed the fans here."
But with the Nets caught up in their own tangled spider web, needing to find a way to put the brakes on an early-season slide in which they've lost seven of eight heading into Friday night's game, there wasn't much time for Garnett to get nostalgic. Not with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Minnesota's fast-paced attack on tap.
"I kind of focus on what's happening now," said Garnett, who received a loud cheer from the crowd and a semi-standing ovation during pregame intros. "There's a lot of emotions that come with this building, a lot of emotions that come with obviously some of the stuff that's in here. But I'm a different person now. Different times."
Some would say he's not even close to the player he was during his glory days in Boston, much less here in the upper Midwest. Garnett, drafted fifth overall in 1995, played 12 seasons for the Timberwolves before waiving his no-trade clause and getting shipped to the Celtics to form the Big Three with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. He averaged 20.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 38.3 minutes per game wearing Minnesota garb.
That's a far cry from the numbers he's posted through 11 games with the Nets. He's averaging 6.6 points and shooting 34.1 percent from the floor.
"Right now, I'm just trying to figure out the system and where I fit in at," Garnett said. "[Nets coach Jason Kidd] wants more ball movement. So I'm trying to initiate that. I care less about my offense right now. I haven't been too offensive-minded. I've been trying to be primarily defensive-minded and slow teams down and kind of be the example for that."
Garnett's numbers take a dramatic dip in the second half of each game, coinciding with the Nets' sluggish efforts after halftime. All it takes is a peek at one statistical category in particular to get a good gauge at the big drop. Garnett's second half PIE (player impact estimate) stood at 0.8 percent entering the night, which was much different from the 16.4 percent he's posted in the first half.
PIE measures the overall production percentagewise of all stats accumulated while that player is in the game. In other words, Garnett hasn't been a big part of the Nets' offensive fortunes and he's actually been hurting them on that end of the court after halftime.
Kidd still isn't ready to sound the alarm, though. Neither is Garnett, who twice said "next question" when queried about when he planned to retire.
"For him, he just has to continue to shoot," Kidd said. "We've all been in this situation as players that sometimes the ball doesn't go in. It's a test when you give into it. He's a guy that won't give up. He's continued to work on his game, and coaches and players in that locker room believe that those shots will fall."
Notes & quotes: Brook Lopez (ankle) missed his fourth straight game, and Deron Williams (ankle), Andrei Kirilenko (back spams) and Jason Terry (bruised left knee) also sat out for the shorthanded Nets.