MINNEAPOLIS -- Stephon Marbury says Minnesota is a great place -- to visit.
''It doesn't get any better than this,'' Marbury said Sunday after scoring 39 points, three shy of his career best, in New Jersey's 91-89 victory over the Timberwolves. ''It was a great game for me and my team.''
Fans were merciless as Marbury returned to Target Center for the first time since he forced the Timberwolves to trade him to the Nets last March.
There were insulting signs and shouts from the stands, constant booing every time he touched the ball.
But through it all, he kept flashing that $70.1 million smile.
''The fans didn't bother me at all,'' said Marbury, who turned his back on the Wolves, who drafted him at 19 after just one year at Georgia Tech, so he could be closer to his hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Marbury, who left in part to escape Minnesota's wicked winters, gave the packed house plenty to boo about, dazzling the crowd of 19,449 boo-birds with his moves they used to applaud.
''Yes,'' he said, this was a very good 23rd birthday present. ''The best.''
Marbury played with a motivation that the Wolves lacked.
''He played how we've seem him play many times in this arena,'' Wolves coach Flip Saunders said. ''Especially when the game was close, he made a couple of big buckets.''
But Marbury missed a crucial 3 from the top of the circle with 8.9 seconds left, giving Minnesota one last chance to send Marbury home a loser.
Kevin Garnett missed a rushed off-balance runner, however. Malik Sealy missed the tip, Kerry Kittles rebounded and no whistle was called before the buzzer to the dismay of the sellout crowd.
Marbury made 12-of-20 baskets and 13-of-16 foul shots.
''Steph had a great shooting night. I stunk,'' said Garnett, who scored 27 points but missed 24 of 33 shots.
''I think I came out too hyped,'' said Garnett, who gave Marbury a bear hug before tipoff.
While one fan held a sign wishing Marbury a happy birthday, another placard at midcourt more accurately reflected the crowd's frame of mind.
It read, ''$teph Me-Baby.''
Although the lethargic Wolves probably were more deserving of the crowd's catcalls, Marbury got booed on every one of his touches during the game televised by NBC, which one fan said stood for ''New Jersey's Biggest Crybaby.''
Marbury, who scored 25 points in the second half, forced the trade last March. He said 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 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 not only wanted some home cooking but also figured he'd get much more exposure, endorsements and esteem with the Nets, all of which he's still waiting for. 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.
Notes: The Wolves turned to Anthony Peeler to run the offense when point guards Terrell Brandon and Bobby Jackson were out with foul trouble late. Brandon was limited to 24 minutes and fouled out with 4:22 left. ... The Wolves sorely missed Brandon's presence as their last two possessions ended in a shot clock violation and a frenetic finish. ... Saunders said forward Sam Mitchell (sprained ankle) will probably be out a week. He was replaced in the lineup by rookie Wally Szczerbiak.
Gill 5-12 3-4 13, Van Horn 4-8 2-2 12, McIlvaine 0-0 0-2 0, Kittles 2-9 1-2 5, Marbury 12-20 13-16 39, Burrell 1-7 2-2 4, Feick 0-2 0-0 0, Harris 5-8 3-4 14, Eschmeyer 0-0 0-0 0, Newman 2-4 0-0 4. Totals 31-70 24-32 91.
Szczerbiak 6-9 0-0 14, Garnett 9-33 8-12 27, Nesterovic 3-7 0-0 6, Sealy 7-11 2-3 16, Brandon 3-9 0-0 6, Smith 4-10 4-4 12, Jackson 1-6 0-0 2, Peeler 2-9 0-0 6, Hammonds 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-94 14-19 89.
New Jersey 26 20 30 15 -- 91
Minnesota 24 18 23 24 -- 89
3-Point Goals--New Jersey 5-19 (Van Horn 2-3, Marbury 2-5, Harris 1-2, Kittles 0-4, Burrell 0-5), Minnesota 5-15 (Szczerbiak 2-3, Peeler 2-8, Garnett 1-2, Sealy 0-1, Brandon 0-1). Fouled out--McIlvaine, Brandon. Rebounds--New Jersey 46 (Kittles 8), Minnesota 65 (Garnett 18). Assists--New Jersey 15 (Marbury 5), Minnesota 24 (Jackson 7). Total fouls--New Jersey 23, Minnesota 23. A--19,449 (19,006).
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