Kevin Garnett loves this year’s Celtics. They are grit and balls. They play hard as shit. They are his type of team, a team that sticks together like the GSE firm in Green Street Hooligans, standing by each other’s side and throwing haymakers as dangerous brawls break out all around them, or more accurately, as they seek out dangerous brawls. Sometimes, when I close my eyes after certain Celtics victories, I can almost hear “I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air” resonating from the Celtics locker room.
These Celtics, more than any other team in the Big Three era with the possible exception of the very first, are born in Garnett’s likeness. Almost every Doc Rivers press conference features the coach discussing his team’s great spirit. The one time he really bashed this crew during a press conference, it came after a weak effort against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. Rivers really let the Celtics have it, tore them apart, questioned their toughness — but even that loss would have been commonplace the past two seasons. Expectations for effort in these parts have changed.
These Celtics are different. Maybe not as talented — definitely not as talented — but wired 1-15 to fill their roles. And Garnett loves that. He loves Avery Bradley’s rise to prominence, which came largely because Bradley plays like his survival depends on the outcome of games. He has advocated that Bradley and Greg Stiemsma get rewarded with long-term contracts. He loves both of Boston’s 2011 draft choices, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson, who are professional even if they haven’t made a huge impact this season. Garnett looks around the locker room and everyone he looks at pleases him, because they remind him of himself, not as talented but dedicated to, and consistent within, the game they play nightly.
And his teammate’s return Garnett’s love. This year, perhaps more than any, has brought Garnett praise from every corner of his locker room. The praise continued Thursday when Jessica Camerato published a series of quotes from Garnett’s adoring teammates. Here’s one excerpt out of several, per Brandon Bass: (WEEI)
“Kevin is an emotional, passionate guy. That’s what I love. He’s been like that since the first day I got here. When MP went down, he was there talking him through the whole thing. I know MP, he knew Kev would be there for him for life. He’s one of our vocal leaders and I would say the most passionate and emotional leaders, too . . . I haven’t played with anyone who is as serious and passionate vocally as him . . . A lot of our sayings around here all come from KG. When we’re down, one of his sayings is, ‘Keep going.’ If he sees anybody having a bad game or struggling in any type of way, he’ll say, ‘Keep going’ for the guys to keep going. … He talks and he goes out and gives his best effort every night, so it’s easy to follow someone like that.”
Danny Ainge’s decision to acquire Keyon Dooling this summer symbolized the quest to build as strong a locker room as possible. Dooling hasn’t been great on the court this season, or even good. He hit just 40 percent of his shots, isn’t a playmaker by any stretch of the imagination and earned this season’s annual Rasheed Wallace Award after being suggested by fans more often than any other Celtic to get thrown out of the rotation. But Dooling seems to be friends with everyone on Boston’s roster. He said Boston’s Game 2 win was a tribute to Rajon Rondo. He took the time earlier this season to attempt dispelling any “Rondo is a locker room nuisance” speculation. He claims Garnett is the best teammate ever. He has nothing but praise to say for his teammates, and when Dooling hit two key three-pointers Tuesday — after a difficult season, after months of fans clamoring for E’Twaun Moore — he said simply, ”It’s not about what I did. It’s about our team and our defense.”
For these Celtics, this year, it’s never about what individuals do. It’s about their team, their defense, their quest for victories. It’s how the Celtics finished with the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed despite a 15-17 start, despite the 24th-most efficient offense in the league. They are grit and balls. They play hard as shit. They are a locker room linked by a singular quest. They are coached by Doc Rivers and captained by Paul Pierce, but this team smells a lot like Kevin Garnett.