MINNEAPOLIS -- And you thought Minnesota was cold before?
Fans were merciless Sunday when Stephon Marbury returned to Target Center for the first time since he forced the Timberwolves to trade him to New Jersey, in part to escape Minnesota's wicked winters.
Marbury gave the packed house plenty to boo about, scoring 39 points -- three shy of his career high -- in leading New Jersey past his former team 91-89.
Marbury missed a 3 from the top of the circle with 8.9 seconds left, and the ball hit the shot clock, giving Minnesota possession. But Kevin Garnett missed an off-balance runner, Malik Sealy missed the tip and nobody was able to foul rebounder Kerry Kittles before time expired.
Garnett scored 27 points, but missed 24 of 33 shots.
While one fan held a sign wishing Marbury a happy 23rd birthday, another placard at midcourt more accurately reflected the crowd's frame of mind.
It read, "$teph Me-Baby."
Although the lethargic Wolves probably were more deserving of the crowd's catcalls, Marbury got the "boo him every time he touches the ball" treatment during the game televised by NBC, which one fan said stood for "New Jersey's Biggest Crybaby."
"I'm expecting the worst, I'm not expecting cheering," Marbury said before the game.
But Marbury had fun with the ribbing, constantly flashing the smile that made him a fan favorite before he bolted. He gave Garnett a bear hug just before tipoff.
Marbury forced the trade last March, saying it was too cold and too boring for him in Minnesota and that he wanted to return home to the East Coast, where he ruled the asphalt courts in Coney Island as a teen-ager.
But he left a lot of bad blood in Minnesota.
General manager Kevin McHale and coach Flip Saunders said Marbury told them he wanted out because he was jealous of Garnett's $126 million contract.
Saunders also said Tom Gugliotta might not have left for Phoenix before last year's strike-shortened season had he known Marbury was going to be leaving Minneapolis so soon.
Marbury, who entered the NBA at 19 after only one season at Georgia Tech, not only wanted some home cooking but also figured he'd get much more exposure, endorsements and esteem with the Nets, none of which has happened so far.
He was snubbed from the All-Star Game this month, he's not pitching many products and the Nets aren't in playoff contention.
"Miss KG?" asked one sign.
On this day, not so much.
Marbury's inspired play had both Terrell Brandon and Bobby Jackson in foul trouble, and at one point Anthony Peeler had to run the Wolves' offense.
Brandon fouled out with 4:22 left, and Marbury made one of two shots for an 88-80 lead. But Garnett's only hot streak, a jumper, two foul shots and a 3-pointer, pulled the Wolves to 88-87 with 2:44 left.
But Minnesota never grabbed the lead in losing for the fifth time in six games.
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