Posted May 17 2012 10:13AM
PHILADELPHIA -- Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers often describes his team's playoff series by deciding which of his All-Stars will need to carry the largest offensive load.
If Paul Pierce has a favorable matchup, it's "a Paul series." If a team isn't able to chase Ray Allen around screens (and Allen is healthy), it may be "a Ray series."
The Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers are clearly "a Kevin series." Actually, the six-week stretch that we're now in the middle of just might be "a Kevin postseason," because Kevin Garnett is beasting on the Eastern Conference.
After an ugly Game 2 loss in Boston on Monday, the Celtics' offense had quite a revival in Game 3 on Wednesday, shooting 52 percent in an easy 107-91 victory, giving them a 2-1 lead in the series. The 107 points matched their third-highest total in regulation this season.
It came by way of big games from Pierce (24 points and 12 rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (23 points and 14 assists), as well as 21 fast-break points. But Garnett was the fulcrum.
Over the last few days, Rivers has made it clear to his team and the media that the Celtics' offense must run through the post. Garnett carried the team offensively in their Game 1 victory, but didn't get enough touches in Game 2.
On his first two post touches on Wednesday, Garnett produced two turnaround jumpers against the overmatched Elton Brand. And from that point on, the Celtics couldn't be stopped. Garnett kept making shots in the post, on the perimeter, and in transition.
The Sixers have kept Pierce in check for the most part, but they have no one who can stop Garnett, especially when he's connecting from the perimeter. His jumper has been wet all series, as he's hit 20 of his 31 shots (65 percent) from outside the paint. And the Sixers' only hope may be that he can't sustain that kind of shooting over six or seven games.
The Big Ticket has always been the Celtics' defensive anchor. But he hasn't been this potent offensively since the 2008 postseason. He has averaged 23.7 points on 63 percent shooting in the three games. And in his 103 minutes on the floor, the Celtics have outscored the Sixers by 47 points. In his 41 minutes on the bench, Boston is a minus-31.
Garnett will turn 36 years old on Saturday, but he's proving that age ain't nothin' but a number and any health issues are a thing of the past. If this is the last playoff run for this group of Celtics, KG is going to leave it all out on the floor. That's a scary thought for the rest of the East, because no one in the conference can match Garnett's combination of size, skill and drive.
"He's just cranked it up to another level in this whole playoff series," Thaddeus Young said. "We just have to go out there and find a way to stop him."
Easier said than done. The Sixers double-teamed Garnett at times in Game 2, but that's really what Rivers wants to see, because double-teams create open shots elsewhere on the floor. And as much as it needs Garnett in the post, the Celtics' offense needs ball movement and player movement, five guys playing as a unit, not as individuals. For both Rivers and Garnett, frustration came not from missed shots in Game 2, but from the way those shots were produced.
"After the game I just came in and said we weren't going to beat anybody," Garnett said, "that includes JV teams and high school teams, if we weren't going to play together. We worked so hard to get to where we are at, and we got there together. Ubuntu. I've been preaching that since I've been here, and I had to remind the guys, the younger guys and the new guys, of how we succeed here."
They got the message, loud and clear.
"That's the right way to play," Rivers said of Game 3. "That's who we are. Now, listen, shots have to go in. That makes you a lot better. But at least, the shots were the shots that we wanted, instead of the ones, because our offense was so poor, that we had to take. And I thought that was the big difference."
Sixers coach Doug Collins said something interesting after Game 3. While Boston was clearly focused on the task at hand on Wednesday, Collins thought that the Celtics were aware of Chris Bosh's injury on the other half of the Eastern Conference bracket and saw "a tremendous opportunity for themselves."
You can add Garnett's dominance into that equation, because if the Miami Heat manage to get by the Indiana Pacers, they don't have anyone who can match up with Garnett either.
"We feel like that's our advantage every night when you look at the Eastern Conference," Paul Pierce said after Game 1. "We are going to ride Kevin all the way until his wheels fall off, and he's bringing it every night. He understands the sense of urgency with this ball club, and he's giving it everything he's got out there for us. And he's looking like '04 MVP, definitely."
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