The final five minutes or so of last night’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers was one long string of expletives exiting Kevin Garnett’s mouth, one long string of good plays leaving Garnett’s fingers. Even for Garnett, the steady strand of screaming was unusual; it was like he wanted to announce his return, loud and clear, to the Clippers and the Celtics’ crowd.
As if they didn’t already know.
Even with Garnett struggling to get back into game shape and almost non-existent on the boards, his mere presence in the lineup has immediately transformed Boston back into the formidable foe they had become accustomed to being. Last night, Boston held L.A. to 38.8% shooting. The night before, the Portland Trail Blazers shot even worse, at 38.2%. The Celtic defense, which had looked anemic in a string of three straight losses, seems to be back, and Garnett seems to be the only reason for the sudden reversion back to form.
It would seem abnormal for the return of one player to entirely change his team’s defense but, then again, Garnett is not a normal guy. His maniacal energy and frenzied behavior, while annoying and over-the-top to opposing teams and their fans, is infectious among the Celtics. From the time he performed his pregame ritual of bumping his head against the basket support before the Portland game, Boston has had a different intensity, a different drive.
Garnett’s individual defense, while noteworthy and admirable, pales in comparison to the profound effect he has on teammates. As many times as Garnett snuffs out an opponent’s possession with a perfect rotation or his disruptive wingspan, his ability to raise his team’s dedication and effort level has a far greater impact on the game.
Without Garnett, the Celtics were not only mired in a prolonged slump, but playing listless basketball. They weren’t playing with a purpose, expending enough energy, or displaying nearly the same brand of rough-and-tumble play that had become synonymous with “Celtics Basketball” over the past two years.
Insert the Big Ticket. Suddenly, the Celtics are coming up with big stops when they need them. Suddenly, the Celtics have a little pep in their steps and a meaning to their play. Suddenly, they seem to care.
The way the Celtics have won the two games with Garnett back in the lineup may seem unsightly to some; they haven’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard. But to an avid Celtics fan, winning ugly means a return to good basketball. With an offense featuring Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, scoring points won’t be a long-term problem. The Celtics are bound to score in bunches, and will likely find their stride sooner rather than later.
While every offense comes and goes, it’s a great defense that has always set this team apart. That defense, and the effort that paved its success, was far from evident in the recent swoon, but a comeback by their maniacal leader has led the Celtics back from the Land of Lollygagging.
Garnett’s string of never-ending shouts in last night’s fourth quarter might have been intended to stamp his return for everyone to see.
But his impact on the Boston Celtics had already done the job.