BOSTON - The road back from surgery is never quick, and Kevin Garnett still knows there's a way to go before he's reconstituted. While he's stopped talking about the knee and giving out percentages to estimate his general health (and he's made it clear he's not going to answer those inquiries anymore), he's still knocking off what a boxer would call ring rust.
That said, on a nightly basis, he's gradually showing signs of being the player who dominated games, intimidated the opposition and took NBA intensity to ridiculous levels over the past two seasons with the Celtics.
Thanks to some solid play from Garnett down the stretch on Sunday night, Boston improved to 4-0 and held off a late challenge from Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets, winning 97-87.
So while he's not getting down on all fours to play defense these days, and seems a bit more selective about which shots he'll challenge in the lane, Kevin Garnett is getting closer to returning to form.
"Yeah, it's coming. I think it's been pretty good anyway. He's been just getting better and better," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said of Garnett after the win. "[He] didn't start out tonight well, tonight. I didn't think he was moving great at the beginning of the game, [but] as the game went on it looked like he got better and better, so that's a good sign."
Rivers' synopsis was pretty accurate. KG did appear a bit sluggish in the early goings, and had four turnovers through the first three quarters. Still, for a guy who's still regaining his timing and looking for consistency, slack is granted and deserved, especially when he delivers in crunch time; when the game got tight late, the Celtics looked to the Ticket in the paint.
"Paul and [Assistant Coach Armond Hill were] on my behind about just slowing down a little bit. I think in the second half I did a better job of just doing just that, slowing down. I didn't get to the line, but it'll come," Garnett said. "Timing, I'm all over the place. I have some good nights and some bad nights but as far as putting the ball and all in the second half I thought I did a better job of slowing down, getting guys involved."
Leading 82-80 with 6:07 to play but feeling the Hornets buzzing around their Garden, Garnett and the C's responded, canning a pair of turnaround jumpers to put the Celtics back up by six. And as the game whittled down to its final moments, the C's went right back to their power forward, pounding the ball down low and creating offense from the inside out, just as Doc ordered. While Rivers was critical of the team's execution throughout most of the contest, he admitted that the final minutes saw marked improvement in court spacing and play execution.
Garnett assisted on three consecutive Celtics hoops, and while he only logged four of his 14 points in the final period, he finished with seven rebounds and five assists.
Rivers called the final minutes a "two-man game" with Garnett and Paul Pierce, who had 20 of his 27 points in the first half but converted on a couple of big hoops down the stretch, including a three-ball that stretched the lead to nine points with 1:17 to play and effectively finished off the Hornets.
"Overall I felt good. I thought I made some strong plays down the course of the game...I got [Pierce] a couple open shots," Garnett said.
So yeah, you might still notice a limp from time to time. And he hasn't been plucking too many of those after the whistle jumpshots down the way he likes to, just to keep the ball from going in the basket when it doesn't even count. But he is finishing alley-oops from Rajon Rondo (10 more assists tonight) and has certainly rekindled the chemistry that he developed with his young point guard midway through the 2007-2008 season.
But for now, Garnett seems most concerned with just re-establishing his presence and notching wins along the way.
"That's what I'm in there for, I'm in there tying to wreak havoc on defense and then trying to make it easy for everybody else," Garnett said.
It's still early, but you can't argue with the results.