In a series in which everyone was busy talking about the rise of Rajon Rondo and the fall of LeBron James, Kevin Garnett's been quietly going about his business.
That's basically just how he likes it.
Kevin Garnett's never had a problem with flying under the radar when it comes to media attention, but that doesn't mean he's any less intense on the floor.
Garnett has never had a problem with operating in the background. He doesn't seek the spotlight, and would probably be happy if he never had to do another interview again. So while all eyes in the NBA were fixated on a ringless King and a budding young star, Garnett, the old dog, 15-year vet and emotional leader of the Celtics, has been busy getting healthy and turning in a monster series for the Celtics against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the victory, the Celtics advance to the Eastern Conference Finals where they'll face Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, who eliminated a Garnett-less Celtics squad from the postseason last May in a grueling seven-game series.
Garnett's 22-point, 12 rebound outing in Thursday night's 94-85 Game 6 closeout victory over the Cavaliers will be forgotten by most national observers who were busy pondering LeBron's future, but for the Boston faithful, KG's performance was just the latest step in a return to form that continues to evolve as the postseason wears on. KG quietly averaged 15.8 PPG and 8.8 RPG in the first round against Miami, and came into Game 6 with 18.2 PPG and 7.3 RPG numbers in the first five games against Cleveland.
Throughout the series and from the start, Head Coach Doc Rivers has been telling anyone who will listen that he wanted to establish his power forward on the offensive end and run his offense through the Big Ticket. Rivers loved the matchup with Garnett against Antawn Jamison, and said he wanted to get Garnett 20 field goal attempts per night, and from the opening tip on Thursday, KG was a focal point of the Celtics' attack.
"Our guys, you know (Rajon) Rondo, every time something went down he looked at me kept throwing the fist for that play," Rivers said, calling KG the 'key' to the series. "Everyone knew, everyone knew what they had to do; get him space, get him room. The great thing about Kevin: they know he's not going to take a lot of bad shots. Even with the 20 number, he's going to make some good passes, which he did. He had a good matchup and he did a great job."
The Cavaliers tried to give Garnett a different look by covering him with Shaquille O'Neal rather than Jamison, but the switch in defenders didn't phase him. Garnett was fine with dropping midrange jumpers, turnaround jumpers and jump hooks over the Diesel.
"Well, over the course of the season I've been fortunate to be healthy and I can honestly say, each month, I've gotten stronger," Garnett said of his continuing improvement. "I don't know, the playoffs come around, it's time to pick it up another notch and that's all I've been trying to do."
Captain Paul Pierce had a pretty quiet series outside of his Game 5 outburst, but he sees Garnett rounding into form just in time for the Celtics as they look to make another run at a ring.
"Kevin didn't really have a lot of time for his recovery and the doctor said it would take at least a year for him to heal. The key was just keeping him healthy throughout the season," Pierce said. "He had his ups and downs and I think right now, you're starting to see a healthy Kevin, just the way he's elevating. I mean, even at the end of the game, he's getting offensive rebounds, going up on his jumpshot, he's looking like he's closer to 100 percent."
Garnett's been tight-lipped about his health for most of the season, and about two days into training camp in Newport, he grew tired of answering any knee-related inquiries. On the occasions he has addressed it, he's given few details and refused to take stock of where he was, either by giving out arbitrary percentage benchmarks (like, "I'm 70 percent back") or even addressing the injury at all.
But as the playoffs removed the grind of back-to-back games that litter the regular season schedule, Garnett's clearly benefitted from the added rest and reduced travel of postseason play.
"It's no secret, I take care of my body," Garnett said. "I'm a workaholic when it comes to trying to better myself. Nothing's changed, (I'm) just trying to better myself."
With his steady improvement, Garnett's role in the Celtics' gameplan continues to grow.
"That's the way we want to play. We want to get the ball to Kevin, we feel like he has a matchup. We wanna run a lot of pick-and-rolls with Rondo. We saw a matchup we can exploit with Kevin and Antawn Jamison, we felt like we could go to it night-in, night-out. That's what we wanted to exploit, and he carried us a lot of this series, him and Rondo."
So the Celtics punched their ticket for a rematch with the Magic, this time in the Eastern Conference Finals. And this time, they'll have their Big Ticket along for the ride.