As the season opens, one player in particular had a very interesting night. Kevin Garnett faced both the team he hated and the player who he felt betrayed him. The much publicized first interaction between Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was symptomatic of the way KG approaches the game: you’re either with us, or you’re against us.
Whether you thought it was a cheap shot similar to a child throwing the rejected Brussels sprouts back at his mother or the sign of a true competitor, it meant something. I personally am somewhere in between, but at the very least, a well informed Celtics fan simply cannot be surprised. Garnett does anything possible to try to attempt and maintain any sort of competitive advantage. The oversight he had was thinking that the former shooting guard for the C’s was fragile enough that the dehumanizing gesture would cause a decrease in his on-court abilities. This fact was clear once Mr. Shuttlesworth drained his first three from the corner that this game was not a place for child’s play.
Allen overall had a more effective night, playing 31 minutes and scoring 19 points on only 7 shots. This was compared to Garnett’s 9 points and 12 rebounds in 32 minutes. Allen looked natural out there, stretching the floor in all the ways Miami had hoped, conversely the offense slowed down when Garnett got the ball in the post.
Garnett did not have a horrible game by any means, he rebounded well and was an active defender. It is always hard to gauge where Garnett is in his career, as every time the media and most of the fan base is ready to write him off– he proves them wrong by going off when it matters most. When does this cycle stop? When do his antics become ridiculous because his play no longer dictates that he can smash his head into the cushion under the basket?
I am not here to make any wild guesses as to the answer to either of these questions, as I have never met the man and do not know what he is thinking or how his body is holding up. Garnett has always been able to talk smack and bang the floor because his play dictated that he could. We saw signs of this not working anymore over the past couple years, times when he would get low when switched onto a guard and hike up his shorts to maximize lateral mobility, only to get beat to the rim for an easy lay-up. Is he becoming a caricature of what he used to be, and will that matter for the Celtics? We know some sort of decline will happen sometime, most likely before his three year contract is up. The most important question is how the rest of the Celtics will respond. They can choose to recognize the great leader he still is or see him as disingenuous because there is dissonance between the way he preaches the game and the way he plays the game.
Basketball can be a fickle sport: leaders can change in an instant and you are respected up until the day you are not. While this may be common logic being paraded as basketball insight, it is important to remember when assessing this team’s unity. As Rondo seems to be the next leader for the Celtics (if he hasn’t already taken that role) it is important that this team maintains their resolve if they want to continue to challenge in the East.
As KG dictated to the Boston Globe, ”You know what man, I was just trying to stay as neutral as I could but obviously I’m an intense person. Other than it was blank, I just saw the Heat uniforms and obviously he’s on the other side and I just tried to play the game, man.” It is interesting to think about if it would be better for the Celtics if Garnett settled into his elder years like his oft compared career partner Duncan or if his intensity is still what drives this team.
I was listening to Scal the other day talk about how KG changed this team such that even when he was injured the team maintained their philosophies he instilled, and spoke about how transformative a leader Garnett is. In the end I don’t think any of the questions about KG’s on-court ability matter; KG’s mentality and approach to basketball will linger with the Celtics, even when his body can no longer support it.