I’m normally like Jamal Wallace in this bitch.
Remember in the movie Finding Forrester, when William Forester told Jamal, “Pound the keys, damn it”? That’s me. I think a thought and it transfers through my fingertips to the computer. I don’t sit and map out stories, and I don’t ponder how to shape my feelings. I simply write them down as they come to my brain. I’m a William Forrester disciple. (Don’t you dare ask me a non-soup question.)
That’s why it’s weird how badly I’ve struggled trying to discuss Kevin Garnett’s resurgence. But the thing is, you guys know Garnett is different. You know he looks a lot more healthy. You know that he’s more explosive. You don’t need me to tell you that he’s grabbing a lot more rebounds, or that he looks better defensively, or anything else you can easily see. You know that stuff.
So then why the hell am I writing this post? What can I tell you that you don’t already know?
Kevin Garnett has not been aggressive scoring the basketball. But you know that, too. Doc Rivers has told Garnett so, and Garnett has admitted so. Through three games, Garnett has averaged only 14.7 points per game against three of the NBA’s softest frontcourts. He has looked tentative at times, unwilling to assert himself offensively, and his overpassing has often resulted in turnovers. Garnett is second on the Celtics (an impressive feat) with 13 turnovers through the three games. His turnover rate so far is an astronomical 23.0 (the league average last season was slightly above 11). His play has been far from perfect. You know that.
It has nonetheless been very impressive. Which, of course, you also know.
“I never try to do one thing,” Garnett told CSNNE. “I try to multi-task.” Yup, you know that too.
So when his offense isn’t working, Garnett helps his team with defense. When he can’t hit outside shots, he dishes to open teammates. When he turns the ball over like Tony Allen on drugs, Garnett makes up for it by hounding opponents into turnovers of their own. (Let’s hear it now: “Yes, Jay, we know all that. Get to the Goddamn point!”)
There’s something different this season about Garnett’s gait. He dragged his leg last season; now he bounces off it with explosion. He used to wince in pain; now he erupts in excitement. Last year he often watched helplessly as rebounds evaded his flailing grasp; now he tracks down rebounds, even out of his area. Garnett from last season to this one is night and day, black and white, Nate Robinson and Shaq. (Does that last one work?) He’s a new man, one who resembles the Garnett who joined the Celtics in 2007 and led them to a championship. All of which, sadly enough, you know.
His improved mobility has manifested itself most importantly on the defensive end, where Garnett’s presence is most felt. According to Basketball Reference, Garnett has led the Celtics in defensive rating in each of their three games. (Aha! Something you might not have known!) He’s hopping around the court like a damn kangaroo, doing what Garnett does, disrupting defenses with his tentacle arms and almost-back-to-normal athleticism.
He’s not who he used to be (Garnett was once the NBA’s best player, remember), but KG could very well be the Celtics’ most important player. His health will likely determine how far they advance this season. As long as Garnett hounds other teams and haunts Chris Bosh’s sleep, the Celtics will remain contenders. But if he reinjures himself or loses a step at some time during the 82-game season, they won’t. It’s that simple. Of course, you know that too.
Rich Levine noted this in one of his posts, but the one play that announced Garnett’s health, more than any other, was a missed dunk. Weird, right? But Paul Pierce missed a three-pointer against the Heat and Garnett skied for the rebound. He rose well above the rim, well above all his opponents, well above the point to which he would have risen last season. He grabbed the ball and — in one swift and furious motion — attempted to slam the ball through the rim. The dunk missed, but I salivated at Garnett’s explosion. I salivated at the way he landed without wincing. I salivated at the way he sprinted back on defense, at the way he moved once he crouched in his defensive stance. I salivated at the way Garnett’s missed dunk reminded me of this.
But you probably saw that missed dunk, just like I did. So is there anything enlightening, anything at all, that I can tell you about Kevin Garnett? Umm, here’s my best shot…
One of the most intriguing and underreported stories from last year was that Garnett’s attitude wasn’t the same. He normally plays basketball like a dog with rabies. He froths at the mouth, runs around like a crazy M.F.’er, and then – when he gets really excited — crawls on all fours and barks in Jose Calderon’s face. I’m telling you, if Garnett had starred in Old Yeller he would have gotten shot in the backyard. But he wasn’t his normal rabid self last year. I mean, sure, he still pounded his chest before games. He still tapped his head against the basket support while warming up. But he was more subdued than usual. (Note: I’m almost positive that’s the first time Garnett’s ever been described as subdued.)
Something wasn’t right, and it’s pretty easy to deduct that it was Garnett’s injury. How could he crawl on all fours when he wasn’t the best player on the floor? How could he hop around the court when it hurt every time he landed? How could he be the Celtics’ heart and soul when he didn’t feel like himself? Garnett’s injury didn’t just affect his body, it affected his psyche. It took away some of his edge.
“I think mentally more than anything was hard for me because I was playing through some difficult times,” Garnett told WEEI. “I’m not one to make excuses. I’m not the one to be out here [whining] and complaining about things.”
He didn’t whine and complain, but it was clear he wasn’t the same. One of the things that most bothered me about the Celtics’ .500 slide to end last season was Garnett’s part in it. The way Garnett had always played — 100%, balls-to-the-wall at all times — I never thought he would allow his teams to experience such a tailspin. His teams had lost before, sure, but I never thought I’d see a Kevin Garnett team give less than full effort. I always suspected that Garnett would strangle a teammate before he let him half-ass games, would punch a teammate in the face before letting him mail in two-thirds of a season. Yet Garnett watched idly as his team grew bored with the regular season. I was shocked.
Then again, it wasn’t the same Garnett I had become used to.
“When you’re injured as a player, you’re never happy,” Doc Rivers told WEEI. “The last two years people have no idea the amount of pain that he’s had to play through. We don’t obviously make a big deal out of it because we can’t. We didn’t want people to know. Now he has no pain so I’m sure he’s happier. And everybody is happier.”
Especially me. The Kevin Garnett I love to cheer is back. He’s not quite the same player he was back in 2008, but he’s bounding around again and affecting every aspect of the game. Most importantly, his fire has returned.
That’s why it was so difficult to write this post. I wanted to explain just how much Garnett has improved, but he’s made it far too obvious.