No-Zone Player? KG Dominates Heat, But Wasn't in the Zone
Rajon Rondo's gutsy return from a dislocated left elbow was a sexy storyline after Boston's Game 3 victory over the Miami Heat, but the real story was how Kevin Garnett turned back the clock on the Garden parquet.
He was a hot enough topic at the postgame podium to draw comparisons to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, be praised by LeBron James for his dominance, and be gleefully spoken about by media members for his shiny box score.
All of that praise would lead you to believe that this 16-year veteran and future Hall of Famer was in the zone tonight, but a very reliable source spoke up after the game and claimed that simply wasn't the case.
"I've been in a zone and that wasn't it," Garnett said as his mind seemingly drifted off to 2004. "Man, I've been in a zone, and that wasn't it."
Really? If that wasn't the zone, I'm not sure what is. And if I'm Chris Bosh, I don't want to find out.
Garnett consistently tallied six points in each of the first two quarters and headed into halftime with a stat line that included 12 points and eight rebounds. The unbiased Celtic fan would have looked at those numbers and assumed Garnett's production would drop off in the second half, because let's face it, KG isn't the youngest gun on the court. But instead of flat-lining it in the second half and plateauing statistically, Garnett turned up the oven on the Heat.
The third quarter was Garnett's, plain and simple. He took eight of his 20 shot attempts on the night in that quarter and missed only one of them. Save for Garnett himself telling you differently, you would have thought he had hit the Hot Tub Time Machine and the 2004, league-MVP version of the Big Ticket was on the floor for the Celtics.
"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," said Erik Spoelstra after the game. "That's what it reminds me of."
Take your pick from guys like Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace in their hay-day and you might not have found a guy who would have been able to stop Garnett tonight, particularly in that third quarter.
This is the second consecutive game in which KG has reached the golden number of 20 shot attempts, which his coach, Doc Rivers, constantly pings him for in key games. During Game 2 on Tuesday in Miami, Garnett fired up those 20 shots but hit only eight of them, and Rivers wasn't exactly thrilled about the looks his power forward got at the basket.
"In Game 2 he got the shots, I just thought he was a little too quick at it, he was rushing them," Rivers said before Friday's practice. "I like the 20 attempts, (but) I think we can do a better job of getting him a better 20 attempts."
Garnett got everything he wanted during Game 3, and he cashed in on nearly every attempt. That's something he didn't do in the first two games of the series, when he scored only 22 total points.
Those struggles were great for Spoelstra to see during the games, but he was not thrilled about the fact that there would be three days for those two performances to fester in Garnett's mind and throughout the media prior to Game 3.
"For the revisionist out there, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, when everyone threw dirt on him in the Finals against Boston, he came out the next night and had 37 and 15," Spoelstra said to the media in a mini history lesson. "And while all this fuel was going on the last three days (about Garnett's poor play), I was cringing because you know this is a proud group, and you knew they would have a response."
The response was, as Spoelstra termed it, "championship-caliber," and it was led by Garnett. It was evident that Garnett was feeling it in the third quarter, and that prompted Rivers to leave him in the game for the entire period, something he rarely, if ever, does.
When asked why he made that decision, Rivers responded with the following:
"Only place we could go. It was funny, you could tell he needed the break with the two minutes left. About two minutes left in the quarter and I know his run; his head's bobbing... you could just see it. And I called a punch, a post play for him and he called it off and tried to call a movement play and I called it back. And I went right back and said, 'No, we're going to the post – to you.' And Kevin's nuts because when he scored, he's running down the court, 'Get the ball to me!' And I'm laughing, I said, 'Yeah, that's what we're trying to do.'"
The Celtics tried and tried again, and it worked, and worked again. Garnett was literally unstoppable once he decided to take this game over. The aggressiveness was there, and that's how he feels it needs to be night-in and night-out in order for his team to win basketball games.
"Tonight I was a little more focused on offense versus defense," were the shocking words that came out of Garnett's mouth after the game. "I thought I did a good job of balancing out to be honest. I looked for my shot to be honest. They weren't bringing a double-team, so I just took my opportunities and I was aggressive. That's what I've got to be like for the rest of these series if not the whole playoffs."
In a roundabout way, Garnett's opponent, James, agreed with that assessment as well.
"I think KG's aggressiveness on the offensive end set the tone for those guys in the first and second half," James said. "I think KG, he did it. He's a Hall of Famer for a reason and tonight he had a Hall of Fame performance. They rolled with him and he brought it home."
Let's meet KG halfway. He may not have been in the zone that he remembers from his early-2000s glory days, but tonight's performance showcased his present-day version of The Zone.
If that zone stays around for the remainder of this series, Spoelstra's cringing might reach an all-time high.