Fired Up KG Carries C's to Second Round
BOSTON - There never has been anything quiet about Kevin Garnett.
Yet, with all the storylines surrounding the Boston Celtics’ six-game series with the Atlanta Hawks, from Rajon Rondo’s suspension to Paul Pierce’s MCL, KG was quietly playing very solid basketball.
And then came Game 6.
Thursday night at TD Garden, Garnett turned back the clock (Don’t tell him I said that. Actually, maybe you should...) and turned up the volume as he turned in a historic, transcendent performance in the Celtics' 83-80 series-clinching victory. Garnett posted 28 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, three steals and two assists in one of his best-ever playoff performances.
It was an effort that could become Garnett’s signature game as a Celtic. It was also an effort that eliminated the Atlanta Hawks, advanced the Boston Celtics and evoked images of the 2007-08 NBA title run. Garnett was ubiquitous on defense, hectoring ball handlers, changing and blocking shots around the rim, and just generally disrupting everything Larry Drew’s Hawks team wanted to do.
Doc Rivers said Garnett “bailed us out” given that Paul Pierce (18 points, seven assists) and Ray Allen (seven points, five rebounds) struggled with nagging injuries. He was aggressive on offense, attacking the basket and nailing turnaround jumpers, including the go-ahead hoop with 30 seconds to play.
And you know what? He was straight-up ticked off in the postgame press conference, calling out Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr., who called him the “dirtiest guy in the league.” Garnett said the comment was “rude, and a little out of hand,” adding that “just because you’ve got a lot of money doesn’t mean you can open your mouth.”
He then took exception to a fairly innocuous question about his performance over the last 35 games.
“I put a lot of work into my craft. I take this very seriously. I always have since ’95 when I was able to come into this league. And it’s almost like you guys are shocked,” Garnett said, his expression and tone revealing annoyance and exasperation. “Like this ain’t what I do every day? It does come off kind of disrespectful at times.”
Garnett had already opened his remarks by taking time out to fire back at Atlanta’s owner, explaining that the Celtics play "firm and aggressive," but not dirty. But even more so than the suggestion that his on-court tactics are underhanded, the insinuation that he’s over-delivering at an advanced age is lightning rod material for him.
Moments after the Celtics’ Game 2 victory in Atlanta last week, Garnett was heard yelling, “They think I’m dead” in the bowels of Philips Arena. Thursday night, Garnett waxed poetic, authentic, and emphatic about what basketball means to him. Few players speak with such passion, and Garnett, while he doesn’t seem to enjoy doing postgame interviews, certainly has no problem speaking candidly when he does acquiesce to questioning.
Garnett’s never had trouble finding sources of motivation, either. The idea that his skills have eroded, or even that he’s going to be 37 when he’s really sneaking up on 36 — he suggested reporters “look it up” in a parenthetical aside — is partly fueling the fire. He had no problem admitting this in front of the world.
But what’s becoming increasingly clear is that Garnett, Allen and Pierce think that this postseason run may very well be the end of an era, even though that threat has loomed since they were first assembled in the summer of 2007. Heck, when they played the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2008 postseason, and stared down a Game 7 at TD Garden, history, not to mention their immediate future, was on the line., whether they knew it or not.
Had they lost that game? The Big Three might have been blown up. Banner 17 may have never been hung. Presumably, everything changes.
Thankfully, KG dropped Zaza Pachulia with a firm, aggressive, and iconic backcourt pick, dropped 18 points and 11 rebounds, and the Celtics blew out the Hawks, 99-65. You know how the story ended that June.
Yeah, that was four years ago. KG’s four years older now, and he’s apparently reminded of it every day.
“I put a lot of effort and work and time into this. You guys calling me old, (that) fuels the fire. You have no idea what you’re doing when you do that. So I appreciate y’all. Whoever’s writing the ‘old’ comments, keep doing that. I appreciate that,” Garnett said.
He emphasized his fervor with some backhanded gratitude, adding, “I don’t read your columns, but it gets back to me.”
His teammates, as they do on the court, had his back when discussing his big night. Asked if Garnett’s performance was “circa ‘08, ’03, ’05,” Ray Allen said, bluntly, “2012.”
“He didn’t do anything that we didn’t expect, that he couldn’t do,” Allen said. “He just was himself, and we kind of went with it, and went with him, and he took us.”
Paul Pierce, meanwhile, re-emphasized the idea that the Big Three is making its last stand.
“This is it. We’re playing like this is it. This could be our last chance together, so we’re going to make one last run and see what happens,” Pierce said, adding later, “We might not have this opportunity again.”
Putting age, newspapers and mouthy millionaires aside, Garnett reflected on what truly motivates him.
“Not knowing if this is my last year to play, playing against younger talent, being competitive. I’m a very, very competitive person,” Garnett said, while also paying his respects to his teammates, coaches and staffers behind the scenes. “I’m self-motivated, but to come here every day is an easy thing to do. You have some hard days, rainy days, blah blah blah, but for the most part, it’s easy sailing in here, man. I look forward to waking up and coming in here.”
Hopefully Garnett gets some solid shut-eye Thursday night. When he wakes up Friday, he'll be a day older, and a new challenge will await him in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He won’t lack for any motivation to prepare for the Philadelphia 76ers.
But who knows? Maybe someone will call him old, question his abilities, or just tick him off before Game 1 on Saturday.
Perhaps he’s secretly hoping someone does all three.