Kevin Garnett dove onto the floor after a loose ball, and DeMarcus Cousins couldn’t just let him be. 1:45 remained in the first half, and the Celtics were struggling, down 46-39. The ignitable Kings center peacocked over to Garnett’s body, taunting the veteran while Garnett laid on the floor. Rajon Rondo took action, starting a shoving match with Sacramento’s prized rookie, but Garnett didn’t show any initial response to Cousins’ tough-guy act. From the floor, Garnett couldn’t.
But Cousins done fucked up. If Garnett normally behaves like a rabid dog in heat, he spend the rest of tonight’s game like a ‘roid-raging rabid dog in heat. He rose for a dunk and missed, but screamed for the next 15 seconds or so. He somehow blocked Samuel Dalembert’s dunk attempt, and flexed his muscles toward the Celtics bench… while screaming for the next 15 seconds or so. He stole the ball from Carl Landry, dove on the floor to knock the ball to Rajon Rondo, watched Rondo throw an impossible pass to Ray Allen, saw Allen drill a three-pointer… and I couldn’t see it, but I assume he screamed for the next 15 seconds or so. Garnett’s play turned the Celtics around, and a game that once promised to end in a disappointing loss became an exciting, come-from-behind, 95-90 victory.
Did anybody expect such an enthralling affair to result from Celtics-Kings? But Paul Westphal has his troops playing hard, and they exude confidence in a way that’s disarming when coming from a 12-34 outfit. Donte Greene shoots like he’s the NBA’s best player. Pooh Jeter runs the show like nobody can stop him. Tyreke Evans plays with his normal cocksure nature. And Cousins struts around, talking a whole lot of smack and stealing Nate Robinson’s three-point celebration in the process. This Kings team has an unnatural swagger for such a — for lack of a better word — shitty team, and played like they had every intention of defending their home court against the Eastern Conference’s best team.
But Garnett had other plans, and, granted, his teammates offered a lot of help. Rondo was at his aggressive best, utilizing his speed to make plays for himself as well as others. There was one span in the first half where Rondo twice got rejected on fast break layups. That would normally be a horrible thing, but, well, it was nice to see Rondo actually dial his own number. I don’t know why Rondo suddenly remembered he could score while attacking the basket — maybe it was because Beno Udrih defended him, or maybe his body felt spry, or maybe he just ate his Wheaties this morning. For whatever reason, Rondo attacked the hoop like he hadn’t all season long.
Rondo’s backup, Nate Robinson, provided more of a mixed bag. I spent the first half completely infuriated by Robinson’s play. He took one terrible shot, and bricked it. He had a two-on-one fast break with Marquis Daniels by his side, and charged like a blind moose into the lone defender. At halftime, I decided what type of guy Nate Robinson is. He’s the type of guy who, if given the choice of crossing a lake in a motorboat or a jet-ski, would choose to swim instead. He doesn’t like when things are easy. It’s too simple to run the offense and take good shots. It’s too easy to dish the ball back to Daniels on that two-on-one for a wide open layup. Robinson spent that whole first half swimming, while the motorboat sat at the dock waiting to give him a ride.
And then he spent the second half trying to earn his way back into my heart. Little by little, he did. I screamed about missed shots, but my brother calmly reminded me, “Hey, those were actually smart shots.” Before I knew it, Robinson was back in my good graces. Why? He just worked hard as hell. Stole five passes. Deflected who-knows-how-many more. And he smartened up, too. Actually resisted taking a pull-up three-pointer on a fast break, when I was 99.73% sure he was going to fire. Worked the ball around, letting the offense come to him (even if he STILL couldn’t make shots). By the end of the game Robinson was out of my doghouse, but, quarter by quarter, I never know whether I’ll hate him or love him.
Some Celtics were more consistent. Paul Pierce was in “let the game come to me, I’ll silently do my thing” mode, but drilled a late stepback jumper to basically seal the deal. Ray Allen has officially graduated from “I’m surprised by every miss” to “if he gets an open look, I would bet my house on it.” Glen Davis quietly pieced together a nice game, and even threw down a dunk in the fourth quarter. And Kendrick Perkins was Kendrick Perkins. He sprinted the floor, boxed out, threw a few after-the-buzzer forearm shivers, and never once went straight up with a layup. He contributed eight points and ten rebounds, and the Celtics are far better off when he’s in uniform.
For the Kings, Samuel Dalembert played the best 2-9 shooting game I’ve ever seen. I’m not even using sarcasm. No, really, I’m not. Dalembert was a force. He blocked five shots. Flew around the whole court like he grew wings before the game. If Dalembert played every game with that intensity, he’d be one of the best energy players in the league. He’d be like Chris “Birdman” Anderson, except a couple inches taller and without the multi-colored tattoos. Evans at times looked unstoppable going to the hoop, and at other times seemed in love with a jump shot that isn’t quite ready to shine. As for Cousins, I love his game, hate his demeanor. There’s something about his whiny face that reminds me of Antoine Walker, at Antoine Walker’s immature worst. Still, Cousins is a competitor. You have to respect a young kid who won’t back down from Kevin Garnett.
But challenging Garnett so overtly isn’t always smart. With this Celtics crew, all it takes is a tiny spark.