KG Calls Defensive Player of the Year Award a "Team Effort"
WALTHAM - After Monday's practice, Doc Rivers said it would be tough for any Celtics to be honored for any individual league awards because of the role-playing style his team plays.
Apparently, Kia Motors really does have the power to surprise. After Tuesday's practice, the NBA and Kia proved Rivers wrong and named Kevin Garnett the NBA Defensive Player of the Year, recognizing KG's impact on a Celtics defense that ranked first in field goal percentage allowed, three-point field goal percentage and scoring differential, and ranked second in points allowed.
"Before we even started this [press conference], I got my teammates and coaches together and said that when a team does well, you can really pick anybody on this team," Garnett said. "To me, that exemplifies what we do every night. Defense is not a one-man thing, it's totally a team-committed effort."
Garnett is the first Celtic to win the award since it's inception in 1983, and he joins an elite club of defensive stalwarts who've won the award, including Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dennis Rodman, Dikembe Mutombo and David Robinson.
"I'm just a little bit surprised that this is his first one," Paul Pierce said of Garnett, the 2004 NBA MVP winner. "I think he's been the class of the NBA defensively for a long time now. It's good that he's finally getting recognized for it."
Though the award winner has traditionally been among the league leaders in individual defensive statistics, Garnett being honored while ranking outside the NBA's Top 10 in blocks (1.25 per game), steals (Rajon Rondo is tied for sixth) and defensive rebounds drives home just how crippling Boston's defense was during the regular season and how essential Garnett was to it.
"The only way I really believe you can be a defensive player award winner is you've got to have great team defense to allow that one individual to express himself even more," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Kevin really understands that and, to me, there's no other guy that deserves it more."
Rivers said KG's package of basketball IQ, athleticism, energy and focus -- not to mention raw intensity -- are what makes him such a great defensive player. That package, and the forward's ability to stifle even the smoothest of pick-and-rolls, transformed both the team's defensive mentality (the 06-07 Celtics ranked 24th in field goal percentage allowed) and eating habits.
"It's a lot of things he's done with the organization," Pierce said of Garnett's effect of the team. "You see the guys after practice lifting weights, they're all in there. He even got guys eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before the game. He's definitely impacted this team like I haven't seen."
Newcomers to the organization like Eddie House can certainly feel Garnett's presence, both on and off the court.
"His intensity is like a trickle down effect," House said. "Kevin's got a lot of people doing a lot of things, not only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A lot of things."
House declined to elaborate, but one of those things has been helping Celtics starting center Kendrick Perkins (who finished with more blocked shots than his elder at 1.46 per game)with his post defense. He also instills a bit of on-court attitude in his mates.
"He gives us our whole swagger," Perkins said, noting that few NBA superstars take pride in playing defense. "We chose to be the bad guys of the league right now. It's all about the Celtics. If you ain't about the Celtics we might not speak to you off the court. That's what he brought to the team."
As for the value of the award, Garnett said it will be nice to look back on sometime, but he remains intensely focused on his team's mission.
"As I come into the NBA season I never think about the individual parts of this game," Garnett said. "But at the end of the day...I'm thinking about that one goal, that's that championship. That's these banners you see in [the Celtics practice facility]. That exemplifies excellence and teamwork. Individual parts come with it but that's not the motivation."