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Garnett finishes one assist shy of triple-double

HOUSTON (AP) -- Eddie Griffin expected and embraced the boos,
knowing he'd get a chance to quiet them all.

Griffin's 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter did the trick,
and Kevin Garnett hit a jumper with 8.3 seconds left to lead the
Minnesota Timberwolves over the Houston Rockets 96-91 Thursday night.

Garnett finished with 20 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists,
and Griffin added 11 points and seven rebounds against the team
with which he began his troubled career, sending the Timberwolves
past a Rockets team missing leading scorer Tracy McGrady.

The boos "just made me play harder," Griffin said, a smile
forming on his lips. "It's nice to show them that I can still
play. It's more meaningful when it's against my old team."

McGrady missed his first game of the season with nagging hip and
groin strains. He said during Wednesday's practice that he might
try to play, but instead he took a few shots during pregame warmups
and later came back to the bench in a dark brown suit.

The Rockets really could've used him.
Yao Ming scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half and
Maurice Taylor added 19, but Houston's perimeter players weren't
able to replace McGrady's scoring punch.

Filling in for McGrady, third-year swingman Bostjan Nachbar
scored 11 points in the first half but was shut out after that.
Rockets guard Jim Jackson also started fast, scoring nine in the
first two quarters but only four after the break.

"You can't play half the game well, and not the other half,"
Yao said. "We had chances to come back, but we just couldn't quite
get it done."

Meanwhile, Garnett took over in the second half.

The NBA's reigning MVP controlled the boards, poked away passes
into the post and even guarded the 7-foot-6 Yao at times in the
fourth as Minnesota held off a late Rockets rally.

After Houston fell behind by 13 in the first half, Yao took
control late, demanding the ball down low and making strong moves
to the hoop to draw fouls. He took 16 free throws, making 13.

"He just played a little tired, but I thought he was very
assertive offensively," Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said.
"Getting to the free-throw line 16 times is a great
accomplishment, could have probably been there a little more
even."

Early in the fourth, Yao spun around Ervin Johnson on the
baseline and threw down a two-handed slam to give the Rockets a
76-73 lead.

But Garnett quickly answered with a jumper, and Griffin hit a
free throw to tie it at 80 and a 3 to give Minnesota a lead it
never relinquished.

Griffin played against the Rockets for the first time since
being released last season by the team that traded for him on the
night of the 2001 draft. He missed last season while recovering
from a slew of off-court problems but signed with the Timberwolves
about a month ago and played in his first game on Tuesday.

After entering Thursday's game late in the first quarter,
Griffin quickly knocked down a 15-foot jumper, drawing a chorus of
boos from the crowd.

"We just let him know it's a clean slate here," Garnett said.
"He's taking the opportunity and making it good. The crowd was
getting on him a little. But they say when they boo you, they
really love you."

Griffin eventually quieted the fans, though, coming up with the
kind of big plays Rockets fans thought the No. 7 overall pick would
make when he came to Houston.

"Since this is only the second time he's played in 17 months,
he did really a nice job," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "I
thought he played well. He made some big shots and ... he worked
defensively real well trying to front Yao."

Leaning back in a chair after the game, Griffin looked more
relaxed and peaceful than he ever did during his two turbulent
seasons with the Rockets.

He even wondered if his career might have taken a different turn
in Houston had he played with veterans such as Garnett and Sam
Cassell earlier in his career.

"Everybody is responsible for their own actions," Griffin
said. "But I think that if there were more veterans, like these
guys, that maybe it would have been a better situation."

Game notes
Minnesota ended Houston's three-game winning streak. ...
Taylor drew a few oohs from the crowd late in the second quarter
when he made Garnett tumble to the floor after a crossover dribble.
Taylor then dished off to Nachbar for a 3. ... Nachbar finished a
point shy of his career high. ... Garnett needed one more assist
for his 15th career regular-season triple double.