He was all the rage before Game One. We discussed his swift return to health, the way he moved more fluidly than he has all season, and the ease with which he tore apart Antawn Jamison. We wondered how last season would have ended had he been able to play, if the Celtics would be two-time defending champs had he not been relegated to cheerleader duties by an unlucky midseason injury. We talked about his upcoming matchup with Rashard Lewis, and how it might swing the Eastern Conference Finals one way or the other. After the game, though, we sang a different tune.
No longer were we talking about Kevin Garnett. I guess 4-14 shooting has a way of silencing folks.
Granted, there was a lot else to talk about. We saw the job Kendrick Perkins did on Dwight Howard and we labeled him Kryptonite. We saw Rasheed Wallace come alive and unleash his bag of veteran tricks, and we praised him for finally showing up. We saw Ray Allen drive by defenders like he was still a rookie and we lauded his aggression. We saw Paul Pierce wake up from his Lebron-induced slumber, and we thanked God for returning The Truth. But we forgot about Kevin Garnett.
It’s weird, too. We’ve spent so much time talking about how Garnett would have altered last spring, but when the effects of his return were felt we overlooked them. Sometimes the intangibles can fly under the radar — especially when so many other players do things to overshadow the small (yet huge) contributions. Even when Garnett was the NBA MVP and dropping 25 and 12 every night, he was always about the intangibles more than anything else. Now that he’s slightly diminished athletically, the little (yet big) things are a bigger part of Garnett’s game than ever. It was those little (yet big) things that Boston missed so much last season.
4-14 shooting be damned, Garnett’s presence was felt last night. Just ask Rashard Lewis. If you can find him, that is – Lewis did a great job of hiding yesterday. 2-10 shooting, only 6 points and 7 rebounds. Lewis’ Game One disappearance showed the world what we already knew — things will be different for Lewis with Garnett healthy. Brian Scalabrine’s not walking through that door to defend Rashard anymore, KG is. It’s not difficult to realize, for the Celtics, that’s a good thing.
“The unsung heroes of the game were Kevin and Baby with the defense they played on Rashard,” Perkins said, after the Celtics finished a defensive performance Perk called the best they’d ever had against Orlando. “You don’t know how difficult that is to get back to a 3-point shooter that’s 6-foot-10 and can drive the ball.”
But it wasn’t just Garnett’s individual defense that made a difference — it was everything he brings to the table. He deflects balls, makes the right rotations and snatches rebounds. Do you think the Celtics would have held Orlando to 14 first-quarter points if Garnett had been in street clothes? On the other end Garnett draws double teams, finds the open man, and generally commands all kinds of attention. Do you think Ray Allen would have been so easily able to find his way to the hoop if Garnett had been injured? If Big Baby was playing 40 minutes and the Celtics had no legitimate post threat?
The Celtics are a different team than they were last spring and it’s mostly because of the big, wiry, insanely intense #5 patrolling the middle of the lane.
As much as yesterday’s win wasn’t about Kevin Garnett, it was.