Posted Jun 2 2012 10:50AM
BOSTON -- The book on Kevin Garnett, in terms of defending against him, always was a big one. Big and thick like the phone books all those TV bad cops use to whack the perps, without leaving marks, before the lawyers show up.
Hit Garnett. Body him. Crowd him. Shove him off his spots by whatever means necessary. Make him uncomfortable with a knee, with an elbow, and soon enough he'll shy away. He'll drift out of the paint, seek refuge off the blocks and start to rely on his fadeaways and face-up jumpers as paths of less resistance. Garnett still can hurt you from out there with his solid mid-range game, but a smart and (especially) bruising defense can limit the problems of Garnett's length, that wingspan and his proximity to the rim for easy buckets and lethal offensive rebounds.
Hold up. Did we say "can?" Better make it "could," as in past tense. Better check the publication date on that book, too, because it surely was printed before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The lanky power forward who always preferred to spin away from contact was in the thick of it Friday in the Boston Celtics' 101-91 victory over the Miami Heat at TD Garden. He was way down there all night, where the painted area meets the semi-circle, hard by the rim. Sometimes he was behind the Heat defense, sometimes he was surrounded by it. Always, he was within a stiff-arm's push or a swipe or a smack.
None of which deterred him. Boston coach Doc Rivers needed Garnett inside and instructed point guard Rajon Rondo and the other Celtics to look for him there, to send the ball in high where only the tallest player on the court could rise up and snag it.
That was Garnett, who nearly finished with a triple-double: 24 points, 11 rebounds and eight push-ups.
Push-ups? No kidding. Early in the second quarter, when Garnett grabbed an entry pass that had been batted off the backboard, Miami's Udonis Haslem grabbed it too, up around Garnett's head. The basketball was still in the Boston player's grasp when Haslem pulled down hard. Garnett came with it, folding backward and slamming onto the green hardwood. He lay there for a moment, letting the mayhem of the play breathe as teammates rushed over. Then he rolled onto his belly and pushed up. One, two, three times. Four, five, six...
Garnett called and raised Zach Randolph's three push-ups from Game 1 of the Grizzlies-Clippers series at the start of the postseason.
"I want people to notice it was on the knuckles," the Celtics forward said well after midnight. "That's old school. My uncle taught me to do push-ups on my knuckles. There are very few who do 'em on their knuckles. That's some Army-Navy type stuff, y'know? Yeah, knuckles."
Said Boston guard Keyon Dooling: "Listen, as an athlete, you've got to get yourself going. Especially when you've been knocked down -- you don't want them to see you as vulnerable. So that was his opportunity to show 'em that, 'Y'all can keep hitting me. ... I'm gonna show you that I love it.'"
A drill instructor might have ordered Garnett to drop and give him 10. Rivers needed him to get down there and give him 24. Down there where, so often in the past, Garnett has preferred not to tread.
"It's a very tough pass," Dooling said. "I mean, Rondo makes things that are difficult look routine. But to be able to throw it over guys 6-foot-9 inches, incredible wingspans, to put the right amount of air up under it to lay right perfectly in KG's hands is tough. But KG's a good target. He does a great job of ducking in, covering guys up, creating angles. He's a really smart post player."
Said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, who obviously had read the book on Garnett: "They established him deep in the paint. We can do some things better in terms of getting him a step further out and trying to disrupt him a little bit on his catches, but he was able to get in a real good comfort zone."
There was nothing comfortable about it, in a literal sense, because the Boston forward paid a hefty price. He stayed in the trainers room for more than an hour after the game and didn't step before the cameras and the microphones until about 90 minutes had passed. The Heat players who had collided with and leaned on him all night were back in their hotel, already sleeping even.
Garnett seemed headed for a fitful night. When the door to the trainers room momentarily swung open, he was being attended to and moving gingerly off a treatment table. When he emerged, the black, scallop-shaped ends of what appeared to be some sort of back patch for pain peeked above the collar of his shirt.
Former teammate Brian Scalabrine, working a media gig, said it was a patch used to stimulate blood circulation, nothing too traumatic. But then such things never are, when worn by somebody else.
"Thank you all for waiting, man," Garnett told the media group when he finally emerged. "I go through hell to get out here and talk to you guys... "
To be precise, Garnett went through Haslem, LeBron James, Shane Battier, Rony Turiaf, Joel Anthony and James Jones to get to the night's destination in the winning locker room. He got tangled up with two Miami players on a rebound, got fouled and, because the referees were slow in stopping the play, wound up with a technical foul for elbowing Mario Chalmers.
In the fourth quarter, he was hurried back in after a breather of 2:37, during which the Heat cut Boston's 19-point lead down to 11. "Desperation basketball," Garnett called it. He came back with 6:14 left and threw down a dunk at 5:29 that made it 93-82. His length and defense made everything just a little more difficult for Miami from there, and his 20-foot jumper from the right side -- hey, a no-contact scoring play for the big guy -- put the game out of reach with less than a minute left.
Garnett, who is listed as 6-foot-11 but easily is an inch or two beyond that, seemed to dwarf what the Heat use as big men, the tallest of whom stands 6-foot-9 .River's game plan for Garnett made Miami miss injured All-Star power forward Chris Bosh for the first time since early in the previous round.
During his team's shootaround Friday morning, Bosh -- sidelined by a lower abdominal strain since Game 1 of the conference semifinals against Indiana -- felt chipper enough to assume the Garnett role on the Heat's scout team. Sort of. Acknowledging Garnett's intensity and Bosh's physical limitations, Spoelstra conceded: "It wasn't anywhere near any kind of speed."
Watching from the side later as Garnett got banged and banged back, and ripped off those push-ups, Bosh's sore gut might have started barking at him a little more. James is an avid pregame reader, headphones on, in the hour or so leading to tipoff, but one book that was so helpful in the past now looks decidedly out of print.
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