Kevin Garnett’s worst playoff game set the tone for a whole decade of failure

Kevin Garnett’s worst playoff game set the tone for a whole decade of failure

February 4, 2020 100 By Sebastian Fry


– Kevin Garnett, an NBA
Champion, a 15 time All Star and by all accounts, one
of the best, meanest, most formidable big men
ever to play the game. With the ring, the reputation
and the confidence he has now, it’s hard to remember
that early in his career, it wasn’t so obvious who this young, long player, was going to be. Was he the future of the NBA or was he just another over-hyped kid who got our hopes up for no reason. Well, after a certain
abysmal playoff game, it looked like KG might be the latter. With a chance to write
a positive narrative for the nascent Timberwolves, Kevin Garnet failed to
rise to the occasion, buckled under pressure
and played emotionally. He didn’t look like a future star. He looked like he was bad at basketball. This is “Kevin Garnett’s
Worst Playoff Game.” (dramatic music) May 2nd, 1998, Seattle, Washington. It was game five of the first
round, an elimination game. Kevin Garnett was young, just 21 in fact. Is it really fair to criticize
someone’s performance when they’re so young? Yes, and I’ll tell you why. KG had been in the league for three years and was, at this point,
a two-time all star. This wasn’t even his first
time in the playoffs. Okay, it’s his second but still. Everyone predicated a
blindingly bright future for KG, even saying he could be
the best player in the NBA. He and fellow baby
teammate, Stephon Marbury, were heralded as up and coming stars, often called the next Karl
Malone and John Stockton. Their star power was so
strong, ESPN picked them to help promote their brand new magazine. The young duo may have even inadvertently given ESPN the idea for the body issue. – ESPN Magazine is gonna be phat, but please, no swimsuits. Tastefully done. – But definitely all nude. – Oh, and let me just
mention in case it matters, right before the season started, young Garnett signed the biggest contract in all of sports ever, 125
million for a six-year extension. So, I’m not about to cut
this millionaire any slack just because he’s 21. He’s young but he’s a star. The fact that this series went to five games was a testament to what KG and
the Wolves were capable of. Despite the hype on individual players, nobody expected this series
to amount to anything. Sure, we’d probably see some good plays from Garnett and Marbury, but this is a seven-seed two-seed matchup. They were up against the
veteran Super Sonics. The T-wolves had only
been to the playoffs once. It was last year and they got swept. This year’s regular season record of 45-37 was the first winning
season in franchise history and one of their big three who helped get them that winning record,
Tom Gugliotta, was injured. But once the series got under
way expectations changed because Garnett changed them. Well, okay, not in game one. In game one, they lost 108
83 and everything made sense. But in game two, Flip Saunders switched to a smaller three-guard
lineup, moved Garnett to center, and double-teamed Vin Baker. And it worked. The Wolves won 98-93,
KG looked solid all game and had a huge block late in the fourth despite being in foul trouble. Ya love to see it. It was the first playoff
win in franchise history. Minnesota was pumped. So pumped, in fact, Garnett
threw superstition to the wind and proudly declared the
T-wolves would win the series. In game three, his
prediction looked accurate. The Wolves won 98-90. KG was great, especially in the fourth. He put up seven points in the
final minutes of the game, helping the Wolves close out. Again, KG saw an upset on the horizon and was not shy about it. Game four was a
disappointment for the Wolves and a relief for the Sonics. Minnesota lost by just
four and despite the loss, Garnett put up a good showing. Going in to game five, Kevin Garnett was living
up to his reputation. They said he was the star of the future but when does the future start? With one of the biggest upsets in NBA history within his grasp, could the future start this very night? No. In his first offensive move
of the game, KG got stripped. He recovered only to miss the shot. This play may seem
inconsequential, not that bad. It’s a few seconds out
of a 48 minute game, but here’s the thing. Lost balls and missed shots
would become the status quo, the inescapable script for Kevin Garnett’s worst playoff game. For example, a few plays later, Minnesota ran their trusty pick and roll. KG got a fairly open
look and it bounced out. But come on, that coulda
happened to anybody, even Karl Malone or, in this
case, the future Karl Malone. Later in the first, he
got the ball down low but lost it when Gary
Payton double-teamed him. Yeah, that was good D, but this is the guy who just a few nights ago told reporters he was gonna win the series. Shouldn’t he be better at this? The second quarter had some upswings. He hit three shots including
an authoritative dunk, though he did have another turnover to that swarming Sonics double-team. At this point, you might be thinking, this game isn’t so bad. KG’s had some misses, some makes, some turnovers but they were forced. So what’s my problem? Why am I being so mean to Kevin Garnett? He’s never done anything to anyone. Well, why don’t we just wait and see how this game turns out, shall we? Shortly after forgetting
to put his hands up while guarding Vin Baker, the Sonics’ regular season leading scorer, KG got in the paint, got
himself some room and (groans), a forceful brick. A few positions later, he traveled, and they might’ve called
more travels back in 1998, but that’s still an embarrassing
way to turn the ball over. Less than a minute later,
he threw a lazy pass ’cause, you know, it
was an elimination game, which was, of course, intercepted, because it was an elimination game. Oh, I almost forgot, the
guy who was enough of a star to launch ESPN Magazine
also missed a free throw, though I should mention he
made the other free throw because if I don’t, we might
start feeling sorry for a man who’s trash talk can be, what’s
the word… unprofessional. His successful free
throw is also significant because it was the last
time he scored all game. You heard right. His last point was with
3:44 left in the first half. Of course, Kevin Garnett has
had poor shooting performances in other playoff games. In 2011, when Boston faced Miami, he went 1 for 10 in game four, a game where a win would’ve
tied up the series, but he was up against
some tough competition. He played well in other games that series including 28 points in game three and perhaps most importantly, he had his ring and
his reputation already. His career was defined. This game didn’t make anyone think, “Hmm, Kevin Garnett
might not be that great.” We wouldn’t dare. A few years after that, KG had another terrible shooting night. The loss of this game,
and eventually the series, marked the beginning of the
end for Boston’s dominant era, but nobody blamed Kevin’s
shooting for that. Even Doc Rivers said it wasn’t his fault, and let’s not forget, he had that ring and reputation already. But back in Seattle, KG was flirting with a
totally different reputation. He finished the half with seven points, four turnovers, and two whole rebounds. But there was still time
for him to turn it around, especially because Minnesota
was surviving KG’s, “I forgot, what’s basketball
again,” style performance. The T-wolves were actually
up at halftime, 47-44. It wasn’t because Marbury stepped up. He was struggling right
along with Garnett. Rather, it was Anthony Peeler
who almost saved Minnesota. He hit six of eight threes
and finished the game with 28 points. If the T-wolves coulda
pulled this one out, Peeler would’ve been the hero of one of the biggest
upsets in NBA history. Wonder if Peeler and KG
discussed any of that in 2004 when they got in a little dustup? KG kicked off the second half
being stripped by Vin Baker and having the ball bounce
off of him and out of bounds. (sighs) And it only gets worse. Approximately two minutes
later, while the commentators were discussing Minnesota’s turnovers, Garnett held the ball out in front of him for anyone who wanted it to take it and Jerome Kersey was like, “Yeah, I want the ball. “It’s an elimination game. “Give it.” Coming a Minnesota time out,
KG forgot how to dribble. People say this guy’s gonna
be the best player in the NBA? Ratings are gonna suffer. He missed a few more then picked
up a completely unnecessary offensive foul while vying for position with future Parks and Rec
star, Detlef Schrempf. KG was clearly losing his cool. On the next play, he
just shoved Nate McMillan because he got too close to him, but then, a few possessions
later, KG hit a shot! Maybe things were turning around. Nope. The $125 million man traveled again. No basket. Flip takes him outta the game
until the fourth quarter. Garnett was so sad and too
big to be properly comforted. But hey, at least none of his teammates were gonna yell at him until he cried. Seeing all these KG turnovers
might remind you of the 2012 Eastern Conference Semis when
the Celtics played the Sixers and Garnett had seven turnovers, but I’m reluctant to be too hard on him because Boston won the series in the end. KG had other good games that series and the one bad game in
an otherwise good series made for a perfect
storyline in “Uncut Gems.” Oh yeah, once again, he had
his ring and rep already. This game didn’t define
who KG was as a player. That definition was already
written in permanent ink, but in 1998, he was still defining himself and he could still have
a good fourth quarter. The Sonics were up by
seven, a surmountable lead, and Garnett had some big
fourth quarters this series. There’s no reason he couldn’t do it again. He came out firing but still couldn’t hit. I mean, he hit the rim here,
that’s kinda something. He was clearly frustrated as
we can see on the defensive end when instead of helping his
team fight for this rebound, he gave up and seemed
to ask something like, “Why has God forsaken me?” Then, the man who just a few nights ago chanted one more game to the
crowd, missed another shot. It rattled around the rim, getting his hopes up only to smash them. To give Garnett credit,
he didn’t get ball shy in the face of all these misses. He was wide open, he
didn’t back down and pass. Oh my God, just pass it. With under five minutes to
go, KG failed to catch a ball that hit him in the hands. As the last moments of
his season tick down, KG sidled up to Detlef
during a free throw and said, “I didn’t have it tonight.” Hey, quick q. If a young opponent said that
to KG during a free throw, do you think he’d lend a sympathetic ear? Now KG has certainly
had other playoff games where he didn’t have it, like his 2014 post-season with the Nets but he was playing limited minutes, he turned 38 during that post-season and these weren’t
defining games for Garnett by any stretch of the imagination. He’s got that ring and he’s
in the twilight of his career. Lay off. Game five in 1998 mattered. It could’ve sent waves through the NBA, not just that there was
a young foe in the west capable of upsetting veteran teams, but the humiliation to the Sonics would’ve most likely
gotten George Karl fired. Instead, Minnesota lost
97-84 and was eliminated. Despite this terrible game, nobody was too hard on Garnett about it. Gary Payton and the
critics said, essentially, wait ’til Garnett and his
team reach their potential. But what this loss meant, and
what the commentary confirmed, Was that Minnesota is still
the team of the future instead of the team of right now and Minnesota stayed
the team of the future instead of the team of
now for five more years. They were eliminated from the
first round of the playoffs every year after this until 2004. And it seemed like this was
what KG’s legacy would be, a good player who wasn’t
good enough to lead his team to the championships or
even outta the first round. But of course we know
that’s not what happened. It took a very long time, but Garnett’s predicted bright
future did come to fruition. He won MVP in 2004 but he
was really given a new life when he was traded to Boston in ’07. He was defensive player of the year in ’08 but I’m burying the lead a bit here. In 2008, 10 years after his
horrible loss to Seattle, Kevin Garnett earned his ring. He set his legacy in stone. Kevin Garnett is an NBA Champion, one of the best players to
ever grace the hardwood, expected to be nominated to the Hall of Fame later this year. We don’t call him the next Karl Malone. It’s not necessary. He’s Kevin Garnett. That says it all. But there was once a
playoff game so bad we saw an alternate reality
in which Kevin Garnett didn’t look like a star, wasn’t able to handle the
pressure of high expectations and traveled more than once. It kicked off a pattern
that continued for years, forcing us to live in
this alternate reality where KG was confined to the
first round of the playoffs. And despite his notorious
ability to trash talk, I thought it was a good idea
to remind everyone of that. (ominous music) Thanks for watching. For more KG content, check
out this Beef History with Joakim Noah or for
another playoff disaster, may I suggest relishing
in this Tom Brady failure. Subscribe to SB Nation, ring
that bell for notifications and enjoy the rest of your day. (dramatic music)