The sun sets every evening, but only occasionally are the clouds splayed perfectly across the night sky to draw an array of yellow, orange and blue pastels and catch your attention so beautifully that a higher power suddenly seems like a greater possibility. Not one to watch sunsets routinely, I occasionally glance at the sky in the evening at the right time and wonder why I don’t sit in my backyard and stare at the skyline every night, hoping for a masterpiece that doesn’t come but once in a while.
The clouds were in prime position for Kevin Garnett last night, leading to a marvelous smattering of pastel colors that hadn’t been evident yet this season. The Celtics big man, 35 years old, a veteran of 1,200 regular season NBA games and more than 44,000 regular season minutes, began last night’s meeting against the Washington Wizards amid growing whispers that his legs no longer possess the fast-twitch fibers necessary to remain a true impact player. He ended it pounding his chest and screaming like a caged animal, having his way inside against a Wizards frontcourt that doesn’t possess much bulk but certainly does not lack for athleticism.
Garnett scored 24 points in just 28 minutes. He shot five times at the rim and made all five attempts. He shot once more from within 3-9 feet and drilled that, as well. He worked his way to a season-high nine rebounds, and he seemed to grab them with more authority than he had all season. He drew a shooting foul for the first time since Boston’s season opener, earning six trips to the free throw line. He was an interior presence on both ends of the court. There was a fury in Garnett’s game, a power in his legs, a bright light emanating from his jersey that looked something like a gorgeous setting sun.
These performances won’t happen every night for Garnett anymore. He’s not the same guy who won the 2004 MVP, not the same guy who transformed Boston during the 2007-08 season, who was an MVP candidate that season as well. He can’t score points on command. Rebounds sometimes fumble out of his hands. Guards, and even certain big men, sometimes dribble around him easily, like he’s not one of the greatest defensive players ever. At this point of his career, despite playing angles better than anyone, despite communicating loudly on every play to quarterback his defense, he’s not. He sometimes looks fragile, and sometimes his trademark passion is reduced to a simmer; those are the moments when we realize that Garnett understands the limitations that have come to harness his game just like we do, and it effects him wholly and unequivocally. He still works his ass off — nobody paying attention would ever question Garnett’s will — but there are moments it seems like he sulks due to the knowledge of his own slipping physical skills. It’s not easy to crawl on all fours and slam your chest when you know you’re not performing the way you once could.
Even after last night’s showing, Garnett acknowledged that his offense hasn’t been consistent this season. (Boston Herald)
“At this point my defense is definitely ahead of my offense, and I’m trying to be just the anchor and the glue of the team. That’s my role. So he wants me to be a lot more offensive. Tonight I thought from a flow and how we were playing, it was just coming to me.”
But every so often, the clouds will fall into place, the sunset will prove picturesque, Garnett’s legs will feel a bit younger and he’ll resemble the player who once carried a team that started Trenton Hassell and Ervin Johnson to the Western Conference Finals. It won’t happen every night — Garnett’s too old, he’s played too many minutes, his knees have been through too much. But when it does, look up at the sky and let yourself bathe in the pastel colors of greatness. The end is coming. Every sunset is inevitably followed by darkness. But the sun will rise again in the morning, at least until the day it doesn’t.