BOSTON For once, Kevin Garnett failed.
He tried his best to mask the fact that facing Utah's Al Jefferson -- the other central piece in the 2007 trade that got him out of Minnesota and the C's Banner 17 -- was just another game against a young, promising big man.
But when he was asked about added motivation facing Jefferson, Garnett responded, "I wasn't motivated" which was soon followed by an ear-to-ear Garnett grin.
"Next question," he said.
Garnett's play in Boston's 94-82 win left no question that the demise of Kevin Garnett has been greatly, greatly exaggerated.
He turned in yet another stellar performance on Wednesday with a game-high 23 points along with 10 rebounds for his 16th double-double this season -- tops among Celtics players.
It was the kind of performance that is becoming more and more common with Garnett who is playing at a level few expected from him at this point in his career.
"I'm motivated," said Garnett, who will be 36 in May. "I hear y'all calling me old. I hear y'all calling me older, weathered. It don't really take much to motivate me. I'm older in basketball years, but in life I'm 30-something."
With age comes experience and the understanding that on many nights Garnett will play the kind of mind games that often frustrates his younger basketball brethren.
That certainly was the case on Wednesday with Al Jefferson, who had 18 points, but needed 19 shots (he only made seven) to get it. Jefferson's frustration boiled over into the fourth quarter when Garnett's play resulted in Jefferson losing his cool.
A double technical foul against Jefferson and Garnett.
"One of his Jedi mind tricks worked tonight," said Celtics guard Keyon Dooling. "A lot of times people focus more on antics, and lose sight of a particular possession in the game. His Jedi mind trick worked tonight."
C's coach Doc Rivers knows Garnett's intensity is omnipresent whenever the C's play. But against Jefferson ... Rivers isn't buying it was just another matchup for Garnett, either.
"They clearly have something," Rivers said. "That's how it always is. Al was traded from here and Kevin is here so that will always last. It's good though, it was fun as long as we won."
Although Garnett would not single out Jefferson, there is no doubt that he finds added motivation in ways that go beyond simply wanting to win.
"I don't watch too many of you guy's interviews -- garbage -- but the ones I do catch, it's an opinion and it is what it is, but it puts a spark under me and I like that," Garnett said. "Playing against younger talent that's supposed to be prolific and supposed to be above-average ... but I'm old though, you know? And again, for the third time, it don't take much to motivate me."
Jefferson chalks up Wednesday's game as "Kevin being Kevin."
"It's just him. But I got mad respect for Kevin, great player. He made a way for me, being drafted out of high school, that's all I have to say about that."
Part of Garnett's motivation is internally finding ways to improve his game.
Following the team's loss at Oklahoma City prior to the all-star break, Garnett addressed the team and essentially said every man needs to examine himself and come back ready to play better; otherwise, stay away.
He was speaking to his teammates, but he might as well been talking in the mirror.
Garnett was playing decent basketball before the break, but he knew he too could play better.
"I've been giving myself a true analysis in the mirror, been looking at myself, telling myself, 'what can I do better?'" Garnett said. "I've been going towards that. I know there are some things that I can get better at, and I've been trying to do that."
Garnett has been arguably Boston's most consistent player this season, and has been instrumental in Boston having the third-best record (13-5) since the All-Star break.
"Kevin's been amazing," Rivers said. "I was joking but it's true, but if you had an All-Star vote at the center spot in the league right now, he'd be right up there because that's what he's been since the break. He's a 5 (center) and he's been terrific."
In the 18 games since the break, Garnett is averaging 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds while shooting 52.4 percent from the field.
Of course part of Garnett's improved scoring has to do with a slight change made by Rivers which has not only helped Garnett offensively, but Rivers believes it has also helped the C's cut down on turnovers.
"The only big we throw it to is Kevin, above the elbow; basically it's that simple," Rivers said. "Before we were running all the elbow offense, but it was any big and we realized that maybe Kevin should be the only (big man) ball-handler above the circle."
But ultimately his success of late -- and that of the C's -- comes down to him not just speaking about improving play, but living it.
"I can't ask a teammate to do something, and look at himself if I'm not looking at myself; that's just me," Garnett said. "When it comes to basketball, you gotta put in your time, you gotta put in your work. You gotta not just talk that talk, but you gotta be able to walk. I'm here. I'm dealing with everything ... but I'm here."