By Peter F. Stringer
June 6, 2012
MIAMI – Kevin Garnett is constantly running his mouth on the basketball court. It motivates himself, encourages his teammates, and occasionally infuriates opponents. Every now and then, he goes NSFW and even incites technical fouls.
Most of the time, though, it’s hard to tell whom he’s even talking to.
KG backs down LeBron James in the post during the Celtics upset win in Game 5 Tuesday night in Miami.
This much is obvious: if Garnett is talking to voices in his own head, thankfully, they don’t give him box score updates during the game. So he wasn’t phased by starting 1-for-7 from the field in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
Spoiler alert: KG went on to hit 10 of his last 13 shots, score 26 points and carry the Celtics to a 94-90 victory that staked the Celtics to a 3-2 series lead and put them a win away from earning their third NBA Finals trip in the last five seasons.
“I just don’t keep track of my stats,” Garnett told reporters in the cramped visitors' locker room at AmericanAirlines Arena. “During the game, you’re just looking for a flow. I’m no different from that. I just stayed aggressive. Times where I had chances to be aggressive, I was.”
At times he was uber-aggressive. Garnett dunked in the lane multiple times, including a nasty one-handed alley-oop, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked two shots. After Paul Pierce drained a gutsy 3-pointer in LeBron James' eye, KG also drained two huge free throws down the stretch as the Celtics pulled out the upset win in Miami, setting the stage for Game 6 in Boston. A win Thursday night at TD Garden would crown the Celtics as Eastern Conference champions.
Given where the team was on Jan. 20, clinging to a 5-9 record after scoring just 71 points in a loss at home to the Phoenix Suns, appreciating where they improbably stand on June 6 is all the more amazing.
“Nothing’s easy,” Garnett told ESPN sideline reporter Doris Burke moments after the win during a walk-off interview. “We do it together, we don’t do it individually, and when we do we look bad. But when we do it together we look pretty darn good.”
To be fair, Garnett didn’t look good to start the game, but miraculously, they remained even with the Heat at the half. But Garnett fine-wined it in Game 5, getting better as the night wore on. As Garnett struggled putting the ball in the hoop early, he never wavered on the defensive end.
Garnett continues to anchor a Celtics defense that relies upon him as a quarterback and free safety all rolled into one.
“I look at myself as a defensive player first. I thought some of the defensive plays I was able to make kind of fueled me into getting some easy baskets,” Garnett said.
Doc Rivers, his voice still raspy from an emotional night of coaching a team that just won’t listen to doubters and continues to find ways to beat the odds, lavished praise upon Garnett in his postgame press conference.
“I don’t know if he still has it, I’m assuming he still has the best plus/minus in the playoffs,” said Rivers, who was dead-on accurate. Garnett, who’s averaging 19.9 PPG and 10.8 RPG in the playoffs, is a staggering plus-164 in the postseason.
“He’s just amazing. (He) doesn’t have to score. Obviously we need his scoring. That’s important, but he just – he’s our life. I mean, he really is,” Rivers said. “He just does so many things that don’t have numbers to it. A lot of it is with his voice.”
That voice, Rivers says, has a calming effect on his teammates.
Garnett and "calm" don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. Then again, the 2012 Celtics didn’t seem to belong in the Eastern Conference Finals before the All-Star Break. But yet, here they are.
“We knew what the circumstances were coming down here. Everyone was locked in,” Garnett said.
“Now we have to take this same approach to Game 6.“