Garnett reaches back to help Nets beat Celtics

Garnett reaches back to help Nets beat Celtics
December 11, 2013, 12:30 pm
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The Celtics fell short last night in their reunion with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and that was due mainly to reasons other than Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. In this case, the Nets were powered by the return of Deron Williams, who scored 25 points, dished out seven assists and took the offense to another level with his general point guardery. The 104 points scored by Brooklyn (the final was 104-96) was their second highest total of the season and only their second time cracking triple digits in the last 12 games. It’s not a coincidence that it happened on Williams' first night back. It won’t be a coincidence if the Nets continue to play better as long as Williams remains healthy.
 
His performance is a reminder of just how much a great point guard can do for an offense. Duh. That’s not breaking news. But last night, the Celtics experienced it first hand, and at the very least can take solace in the fact that they have a great point guard of their own waiting in the wings. I think. I mean, probably. Hell, I don’t know when Rajon Rondo’s coming back, but let’s just assume he is at some point.
 
The other reason Boston lost: Brook Lopez. The 7-foot twin scored 24 points on 10-13 shooting and was a game-best +18. For the majority of his 37 minutes (especially the first three quarters), Lopez dominated the Celtics in the simplest, most barbaric way possible. He was just bigger and stronger than everyone else. He got the ball where and when he wanted. He was 10-for-11 in the paint. He was like the overgrown fourth grader in rec league who stands under the hoop catching offensive rebound after his own offensive rebound until he finally gets one to fall. Only in this case, that fourth grader only needed one shot at the hoop. And looks like a Koopa Troopa from the Super Mario movie.
 
In general, last night blasted a spotlight on the two biggest things that stand between the Celtics being a scrappy, slightly above-average team in a depressing conference and a legitimate threat to make noise in the postseason: A point guard and center.
 
It’s not that easy, but it would make things a lot easier.
 
In the meantime, we should talk about two things that the Celtics don’t need, but certainly didn’t mind getting reacquainted with in Brooklyn: Pierce and Garnett.
 
I’ll save most of my Pierce thoughts for when the Nets come to town next month, because writing about last night’s performance doesn’t seem fair to the former Celtics captain. He deserves better.
 
It was Pierce’s first game in more than a week, and it probably happened a week earlier than he should have been playing at all. You can’t expect Paul Pierce to be Paul Pierce when he’s running around wearing big Ernie McCracken’s bowling brace. Even if the guy who averaged more than 25 points a night five times over a seven year period is long gone, 36-year-old Pierce is still better than the 22-minute, 0-for-3 showing he had on Tuesday.
 
For what it’s worth, it was only the fourth time in his career that Pierce played more than 20 minutes without making a field goal. You know he’ll bring a lot more to the table on January 26. So let’s wait until then to get all sappy about the Truth. For now, it was great to see him out there, and not remotely surprising that he defied the original diagnosis on his broken hand and found a way into last night’s action.
 
As for Garnett. It was surreal seeing him in that No. 2 Brooklyn jersey. To watch him go through his pre-game routine:
 
1) Head-butt the basket support.
2) Beat his chest in the far left corner.
3) Mother eff the crowd.
4) Frantically scramble to make eye contact with every official before the tip.
 
And then go to battle AGAINST the Celtics.
 
That said, it was probably more surreal for Celtics fans than it was for Garnett. It was definitely more surreal for Pierce. After all, the Truth is forever engrained in the organization. He’s a guy who spent 15 years in town, lived through Pitino, the 2007 Lottery and withstood almost as many bad times as he did good. The Celtics, roster be dammed, will always be the Celtics to Pierce. For Garnett, it’s more about the guys who were on the roster at the same time he was; a six-stretch within the team’s nearly 70-year history.
 
“Because Doc isn’t over there, it’s probably a little less emotional,” Garnett said after the game. “You don’t see Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Eddie House, Baby.”
 
First, what’s the bigger surprise: That KG mentioned Ray Allen by name, or that he mentioned Big Baby at all? Second, despite that comment, Garnett will be on emotional overload when the Nets come to Boston. He may not have an intense connection with the Celtics uniform, but he formed a bond with the Garden and its fans that runs deeper than we can even understand.
 
You can already picture what Pierce will be like when he’s introduced on January 26. He’ll have one arm raised in the air, an enormous, almost bashful smile across his face. There will be tears in his eyes, and he won’t try to fight them. On the other hand, I’m not sure how Garnett will respond. I’m a little uneasy even thinking about it. But it will be special night. Just hope that both guys can stay healthy in the meantime.
 
Health hasn’t been an issue for Garnett this season. Well, that’s not exactly true. At this point in his career, health is always an issue. It takes him hours upon hours of work every single day just to be healthy enough to play his 25 minutes a game.
 
So far this season, he’s been there every almost night. Nineteen-of-21 games so far. Joe Johnson is the only Nets starter to play more games this year than KG. But as a result of Johnson’s understated demeanor and general lack of human emotion, Garnett’s been on the receiving of the majority of Brooklyn’s on-court criticism. Of course he has. What are people going to take shots at Alan Anderson? Mason Plumlee? Only a monster could be mean to Shaun Livingston.
 
So, while Jason Kidd’s taken plenty of heat on the sidelines, on the court, it’s been all about Garnett. What he can no longer do. Why, once again, he’s all washed up.
 
The numbers obviously support that criticism. Garnett’s stats this year are more depressing than Derrick Rose and Anthony Davis’ injuries combined. After last night, KG’s averaging 6.7 points and 7.6 rebounds a night. Guys like Chris Andersen, Cartier Martin and Timofey Mozgov are all averaging more points in fewer minutes than Garnett. He’s also shooting 37.1 percent from the field. For reference, last season was the only time that Garnett shot below even 50 percent as a Celtic, and his percentage was 49.6.
 
It’s funny, because watching the game last night, the general reaction from Celtics fans was that KG looked pretty good. From Nets fans, that he was playing one of his best games of the season. Then, at the end, you look at the box score and see his line: 26 minutes, 11 points, nine rebounds, three assists. And it’s like, “Wow, so that’s what constitutes a good a game for Kevin Garnett these days?”
 
In his post game press conference, Brad Stevens went out of his way to single out Garnett’s defense as one of the major factors in disrupting what the Celtics were trying to do. And that makes sense, because Garnett is one of the best defensive players in NBA history. He understands more than anyone else. He cares more than anyone else. Knowledge and effort are the two greatest assets a defensive player can have, so as long as Garnett’s in the league, he’ll have a presence. But on a play-to-play basis? When he has to guard pretty much anyone man-to-man? He’s consistently beaten off the dribble and out-muscled by smaller players. Even off the ball, there are times when you’ll see a guard drive to the hoop, the way Jordan Crawford did a few times last night. In the past, KG would have been five steps ahead and had the lane sealed by the time that guard hit the paint. This year, that guard makes the layup and Garnett’s still two steps a way.
 
Things will get easier for KG now that Williams is back. If Lopez can keep it going and Andrei Kirilenko works his way back to the court, it will get much easier. But after these last few months, Nets fans are now well aware of something that Celtics fans have known for a few years. Kevin Garnett’s days as an All-Star power forward are long behind him.
 
It’s always a little weird to hate on a player for getting old, because that’s the one aspect of life that none of us can overcome. Garnett doesn’t care any less than he did 10 years ago. He’s trying just as hard, if not harder. The guy has accomplished more than all but a handful of players in NBA history. He’s one of the greatest athlete’s of our lifetime. So to sit here today and pick him apart based on what he used to be probably isn’t fair.
 
He’s 37 years old. There are only six people in the world who are older than Garnett and still receiving an NBA pay check. Of the six, only fellow Hall of Famers Ray Allen (who still has the body of a 24 year old) and Tim Duncan are playing more minutes.
 
KG’s still one of the best passing big men in the game, although he doesn’t get a chance to utilize that as much now that he spends so much time away from the hoop. But while he’s out there, Garnett can still drain that 17-footer. He’ll be hitting that thing until he’s 80 years old, running game and talking trash on the playgrounds of Malibu.
 
He’s played more than 48,000 minutes in the league. That the equivalent of more than 33 days. And over that time, he’s given more to the game and its fans than any active player not named Kobe. The truth is that we should be celebrating these last few years (or year?) of Garnett’s career. Appreciating and respecting the fact that he’s still out there. That Kevin Garnett is still in our lives.
 
But that’s not how it’s gone down so far. And don’t expect that to change moving forward. Because it’s Kevin Garnett. After years spent getting under the skin of opposing fans and bullying younger players, there’s a long line of people that have been waiting forever to get the best of KG. This their chance. And it doesn’t help that, more than any other player in the league, aside (again) from maybe Kobe, Garnett has been the most unwilling to accept his age. To even admit that he’s getting older.
 
Here watch his new commercial for the 1500th time:

First off, it’s awesome. On par with every other awesome commercial that Garnett’s made over the last 20 years. But it’s also a little sad. A little delusional.
 
When you think back to some the best ads of KG’s career, they mostly revolved around his larger than life, almost super hero persona. There was KG carrying the whole world on shoulders. There was King Garnett leading the Quest for G. But this latest one is different. It’s real. But Garnett’s message is pretty clear. He doesn’t accept that reality.
 
He’s still man. He’s the man. He’s the man. He’s the maaaan.
 
And when you keep telling everyone that you’re the man, they’ll keep holding you to those standards. And in Garnett’s case, it won’t be pretty.
 
But regardless of what happens between now and then, he’ll be the man again on January 26. He and Pierce will be the stars of what the most memorable night the Garden sees all season.
 
One spot ahead of tonight’s game.
 
The return of Doc Rivers and the conclusion of Celtics Reunion Week.
 
Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine