The Brooklyn Nets are no longer a threat in the NBA Playoffs after being ousted last week by the Miami Heat in five dispirited, disheartening and disappointing games. While the Nets possessed a roster of names that even the most casual of fans heard of, it was all a mirage. Everything from the first press conference announcing the newly formed roster to the Nets hiring Jason Kidd to lead the charge to their march through the regular season and the first round of the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors was a facade. This team had all the star power but no actual stars to carry it to victory against the Heat.
One player who was on the receiving end of going to the house was Kevin Garnett, a mainstay of this site and one of my five favorite basketball players who ever lived. KG looked every bit of his age against the Heat, and while he played hard, he just doesn’t have it in the tank to dominate games anymore, a declaration I conceded several years ago and one that is painfully obvious now. For the younger generations who only knows Garnett from what they see now, they are likely to be completely unimpressed and flabbergasted as to why people such as myself hold him in such high regard. Well, look no further than 10 years ago today when Kevin Garnett, recently crowned MVP, entered Game 7 of the 2004 Western Conference Semifinals against the Sacramento Kings.
The Minnesota Timberwolves came into the 2004 postseason with the best record in franchise history, led by two players with previous playoff performances for the ages in Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell. Those two players added a pedigree to the Timberwolves that they never possessed previously: the ability to not panic. Cassell won two titles with the Houston Rockets in 1994 and 1995, while Sprewell was five years removed from a trip to the NBA Finals with the New York Knicks. These two were just the partners that Kevin Garnett needed in order to make the most of an historic season.
KG won the MVP that year averaging 24 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks a game. He was the most versatile player in the NBA, a man who could play all five positions and guard all five as well. He was justifying “The $126 million Contract,” and while he had previous playoff slipups prior to the 2004 postseason, the acquisitions of Cassell and Sprewell, along with teammates who went through the first-round flameouts with him previously, he was poised to make the 2004 postseason his most gratifying one yet.
The Timberwolves breezed through the first round of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets in a series I don’t remember much about before taking on the battle-tested Sacramento Kings in the semis. For six games, the Kings and Wolves battled, refusing to give each other an inch, and after Game 6, the series was knotted at three games apiece.
Prior to Game 7, I didn’t worry about the Kings being ready at all. They were one year removed from a Game 7 loss against the Dallas Mavericks, a series that saw Chris Webber blow his knee out and Nick Van Exel average 25 points a game. They were also two years removed from one of the most memorable, if not the most controversial, seven-game series in recent memory with the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, which included a Game 6 that I have vowed to never watch again. With most of the Kings core intact, there was no doubt in my mind they would be ready to go.
As for the Timberwolves, this was new territory. Sure, they had Sam Cassell, but he was battling back issues coming into the final game and having to deal with Mike Bibby, the Kings point guard, on the opposite side. Sure, the Wolves had the reigning MVP, but his counterpart was Chris Webber, someone who was on his way to being one of the best power forwards of his generation, and while Webber still wasn’t 100% recovered from his knee injury the season before, he was on the court and holding his own against Garnett. This particular Game 7 had all of the elements of a classic.
It was also Kevin Garnett’s 28th birthday. I don’t know about you, but the last place I’m trying to be on my birthday is at work. In the case of KG, however, he made sure to make it a birthday that I, as a fan, would never forget.
32 points, 21 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals, 5 blocks and a Chris Webber last-second three going in and out at the buzzer, the Minnesota Timberwolves were on their way to the Western Conference Finals to play against the Los Angeles Lakers.
I have seen plenty of Kevin Garnett games in my life, and even including the 2008 championship run with the Boston Celtics, a run that included two Game 7’s that postseason, Game 7 against the Kings remains the greatest game I have ever seen him play and one of the 10 best individual performances I have ever seen from a player on the basketball court. He did everything that game and solidified his status at the best player on the planet that particular season.
Ten years later, everything from the number on his jersey to the shoes on his feet are different, and while Father Time has taken away damn near any trace of the player we remember from 10 years ago today, Father Time can never erase the memories of what Kevin Garnett did on that memorable May night a decade ago.