BOSTON Kevin Garnett has been really good for the Boston Celtics since the All-star break.
But in the last two games, the Big Ticket has been delivering in a way that few would expect from a player so seasoned.
Garnett led the way for Boston with a 29-point, 11-rebound night that proved to be just enough for the C's to slip past Philadelphia, 92-91, in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series.
"Garnett, I've never seen him play better," said Sixers head coach Doug Collins.
It was vintage Garnett, who controlled the action with scoring around the basket and from the perimeter, all while continuing to serve as the anchor for a strong Celtics defense.
And as far as Garnett's offense was concerned, Rajon Rondo was once again feeding Garnett early and often.
"That's the game plan all the time," said Rondo who had his eighth playoff triple-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 17 assists. "When we get away from (it), we take a lot of jump shots. We're a jump-shooting team. But when we need a bucket we tend to go to Paul (Pierce) or Kevin."
Against the Sixers, the preferred matchup to exploit was Garnett against Spencer Hawes.
"He (Garnett) had a lot of great looks that he wanted and he made his shots," Rondo said.
The Sixers were well aware of how Garnett dominated the Atlanta Hawks on Game 6 of the C's first-round series. In that game, an 83-80 Celtics win, Garnett had 28 points and 14 rebounds.
Philadelphia threw double teams at him.
They tilted defenders in his direction.
But nothing seemed to work.
"I don't know what else we could have done," Collins said. "He made a lot of tough shots. He hits those long jump shots. We are not going to run out at him or get a hand in his face. You start running around and doing all that, you free up Paul Pierce and all these other guys."
And there lies the challenge that Garnett poses when he's on his game like he has been of late:
His play symbolizes the pick-your-poison dilemma that most teams face when playing the Celtics.
And while the Celtics have a slew of players that have delivered in big-game situations, Garnett has been the player giving teams the most fits lately.
His strong play has made it tough on C's coach Doc Rivers to limit his minutes. In Saturday's win, Garnett played 38 minutes which included the entire fourth quarter.
Boston cut back his minutes earlier in the game with the goal being to play him for most, if not all of the fourth quarter.
"It's still tough, though, honestly, because it's the minutes in a row that I manage more than the cumulative minutes for him," Rivers said. "And that was the risk, but he handled it pretty well."
Said Garnett: "Whatever is asked of me, is what I am going to do. I don't really pay attention to the minutes."
While Garnett openly admits he hates the fact that the C's now have him playing center, there's no argument outer how it has helped both him and the Celtics this season.
"He's been incredible," C's guard Keyon Dooling told reporters after Saturday's win. "Ever since we made that adjustment at the All-Star break and put him at the five, it's really tough for big guys to get out and challenge him. When they try to put smaller, quicker guys on him he goes down on the block and he just raises up right over the top of them. So his play has been inspiring, his defense has been flawless, and he still does all the little things in the energy and effort category that really help our team win."
And all those little things come about because Garnett puts in the time to steadily work towards improvement, as opposed to simply relying on his experience and talent.
"I have no life at this point," Garnett said. "I go home, get treatment, come back in here, study tape, film. No life at all. This is what it is."