I can tell you exactly when I knew the Celtics were going to win tonight’s game against the Knicks, but you might not believe me.
They were losing 59-50 in the third quarter, and had looked listless to that point. It was the second night of a preseason back-to-back, and the Celtics didn’t have the spark they normally do. But Kevin Garnett had just hit an and-one, and there was something about his reaction, something about the way veins popped out of his neck as he screamed and clapped and hopped around and most definitely cussed. “This game is over,” I told my brother. “The Celtics are going to win this thing by at least ten points.”
The final score? 97-84, Celtics. From the time I predicted victory, the Celtics outscored the Knicks 47-25. Yet I can’t take any credit for my accurate prediction. Kevin Garnett might as well have looked me in the eye and told me the Celtics were about to turn the game around.
Garnett did a lot of the work himself, finishing with 20 points and four rebounds in only 19 minutes. I try to watch Garnett with a skeptical eye, to judge his progress harshly. When others see Garnett skying for an alley-oop, I see him four or five inches lower than he was in 2008. When others see him disrupting an opponent’s offensive sets, I wonder why he can’t create his own offense in the post. But I still had no complaints about Garnett tonight.
He was everywhere, looking as spry as he has since that damn injury cut short his 2009 season. He looked, dare I say, like the Kevin Garnett of old, the Kevin Garnett who affects a game in zillions of different ways, the Kevin Garnett who rallies his troops with a single emotional gesture. There was one play when Garnett blocked a shot at the rim on one end, beat everyone down the floor, caught a pass from Rajon Rondo and laid it in with his left hand. The play was so beautiful, so Garnett, that I almost cried a tear of joy. Garnett won’t dominate every night anymore; those days are gone. But on the certain nights when he has a bounce in his step and a twinkle in his eye, Garnett can still raise his play to an MVP level.
On this night, Garnett carried the Celtics to victory. But he wasn’t alone. Rajon Rondo continued to pick his spots in this preseason, shooting only three times and scoring only two points, but controlled the game in other ways. When you can contribute in as many ways as Rondo does, scoring isn’t necessary every night. He dropped nine dimes and snagged eight boards, and left the whole crowd wondering, “What the hell happened?” when he dropped a no-look, left-handed pass over his head to Semih Erden.
Nate Robinson didn’t shoot well (4-14 fgs, 1-7 3-pt), but maintained his aggression. Robinson has opened up the throttle and is looking to drive to the hoop a lot more this year, using his explosiveness as a weapon. Glen Davis made a few gorgeous post moves (one athletic spin move comes to mind) and added 15 points and seven rebounds, and Paul Pierce scored an efficient 16 points and put the clamps on Danilo Gallinari once the Celtics got serious (Gallinari played well other than that stretch, during which Pierce contested every shot and forced misses).
In the battle for 15th man, Stephane Lasme had five turnovers to offset his seven points and four rebounds, and Von Wafer pitched in a solid if not spectacular eight points and five boards. Neither Lasme nor Wafer sealed a spot, but Wafer might be edging ahead because he has slowed himself down the last two games. No longer making dumb mistakes, Wafer is now letting his offensive talent shine through.
One of the characteristics that set the 2008 Celtics apart from most other teams in history was an ability to press the turbo button and leave opponents in the dust. Sitting at home on my couch, I could sense when it was about to happen. Kevin Garnett would always be the player to rev the engine with a display of emotion, a rallying cry to his teammates. Let’s blow these motherfuckers out.
Garnett would clap in his opponent’s face, or get down on all fours and bark like a dog, or pressure the opposing team’s point guard full court. No matter what Garnett chose to make his rallying cry, his message was always the same. It’s winning time, fellas. I knew immediately that the Celtics were going to win the game. The result wasn’t in question.
The last couple years, the Celtics have missed that. But not tonight. I know it was only preseason, and I know it was only against the Knicks, but it had been a long time since I watched the Celtics and knew, “They’re ready to put this game away.”
It felt damn good.
- Game Notes:
- New Jersey native Tom Heinsohn, when told by Mike Gorman that Ronny Turiaf is fluent in five languages, said that he was fluent in two himself: “English and Jersey.”
- Delonte West, Jermaine O’Neal and Marquis Daniels sat out tonight’s game. West is still bothered by back spasms, O’Neal bruised his hand, and Daniels complained of a sore right shoulder. None of the injuries seems too serious, although West underwent tests on his back. “We’ll know more in a couple days,” said Doc Rivers.
- Avery Bradley missed the game, too. Rivers said Bradley might be shut down until his ankle looks better. He was limping around during his brief time in yesterday’s game.
- Amare Stoudemire sat out for the Knicks. It was just a precaution for Stoudemire, who says he’s in the best shape of his life.