By Peter Stringer
January 18, 2011
BOSTON, Mass. - Kevin Garnett returned to the lineup Monday night against the Orlando Magic, and he brought the playoff version of the Boston Celtics back with him.
In a postseason-quality battle against a retooled Orlando squad that appears to be more dangerous than ever before, the Celtics rode Garnett's energy and overcame a large free throw discrepancy to knock off the Magic 109-106 at TD Garden.
After missing nine games, KG returned to the floor and made his presence felt, both from an intensity standpoint and a defensive standpoint. His steal against Jameer Nelson in the final minute of the game helped seal the 109-106 victory at TD Garden Monday night.Brian Babineau/Getty/NBAE
Garnett told reporters afterward that after practicing last Thursday, he didn't feel ready to return to action on Friday. But it was a different story Monday after he got the blessing from Paul Pierce.
"I asked Paul right away, who's probably the most truthful, the most blunt, and I've known him since 13, 14 and I value his word," Garnett said, seated next to the captain at the postgame press conference podium. "He told me I looked very good and I told him I felt strong."
Garnett got stonger as the game wore on, too. He dropped 10 of his 19 points in the third quarter, connecting on his trademark midrange jumper when the ball rotated to him in the flow of the offense. He was banging the glass early and by the time the final horn went off, he was in a full-tilt frenzy, barking at Dwight Howard as he left the floor. PR Chief Jeff Twiss got an earful as he corralled him for a postgame interview with TNT, and then Cheryl Miller heard even more as she prepared to talk to him on camera.
That trademark intensity seemed to transform the Celtics from the opening tip back into a reasonable facsimile of the playoff team from last season that came within 12 minutes of winning their second NBA title in three seasons.
"I said to somebody else, we looked like a totally different team. Just with Kevin on the court, you can't replace what Kevin gives to a ball club," said Pierce, whose and-one elbow jumper (the part of the key he likes to call his ‘sweet spot') put the C's up 107-104. "It doesn't always show up in the numbers, but his presence and his feel for the game and everything he does for this team go far beyond the numbers."
Garnett's steal against Jameer Nelson on the following Orlando possession sealed the game and highlighted the vaunted Celtics defense that Doc Rivers said returned in the final three minutes of the contest.
"I knew he'd play with energy. You could see that. You could see it yesterday, and I was telling guys yesterday that our practice was just crazy with energy. And so, you knew that," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said. "I was concerned about his wind; I wasn't concerned about his health at all. I knew one of the things we said: he wasn't playing until he was 100 percent. But yesterday, we went an hour and after about ten minutes he was -- he looked like he needed an oxygen tank. And that's why I took him out early in the first quarter; I thought he was struggling then. And then he came back and he felt great. So, yeah, he surprises you all the time."
In his first five minutes, Garnett was clearly geeked up as he scored at the rim twice, grabbed three rebounds and handed out an assist while the Boston offense was flowing through him in the post. He sat down after his first 9:10 of action with four points, six rebounds and a pair of assists. Not a bad line for a guy who sat out the last nine games with an injury near the surgically repaired right knee that cost him the 2008-09 playoffs.
So it's official. Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics dodged a bullet.
That bullet could have been a kill shot. When KG came up lame in Detroit on Dec. 29, a stomach-turning case of déjà vu set in for Celtics fans, and presumably Garnett himself. Burying his face in his hands as he favored the right leg, Garnett appeared to be presuming the worst, and it was hard not to do the same.
But the Big Ticket was back in action Monday against an Orlando team that the Celtics are likely to see again in their quest for Banner 18, and his presence alone lifted the spirits of his teammates, not to mention their play.