Garnett has significant impact in first game back

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Garnett has significant impact in first game back

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The powder was clasped, and slowly rose in the air near the scorer's table.

A one-handed chest-pounding before the opening tip-off.

Getting it done at both ends of the floor.

Yes.

Kevin Garnett was back to doing what KG has done for years, as the Celtics held on for a 109-106 win over Orlando Monday night.

Garnett, who had missed the previous nine games with a muscle strain in his lower right leg, had 19 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals and countless high-energy plays that seemed to charge up his teammates at just the right time - the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Celtics were 6-3 without Garnett, which isn't too shabby.

But there's no mistaking the impact Garnett's presence has on this team.

"We look like a totally different team with Garnett," said Paul Pierce. "Just with Kevin on the court . . . you can't replace what Kevin gives to a ball club."

Numbers only provide a glimpse into the window of opportunities a team has when Garnett is on the floor.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't know how effective Garnett would be, especially after the team's practice on Sunday.

"Sunday, our practice was crazy with energy," Rivers said. "I was concerned about his wind; I wasn't concerned about his health at all. Sunday, we went an hour. And after about 10 minutes, he looked like he needed an oxygen tank."

That's why Rivers subbed for him out in the first quarter at the 2:50 mark, with Luke Harangody.

"I thought he was struggling then," Rivers said. "But he came back, and he was great."

Garnett is no stranger to missing games.

Two years ago, he missed 25 regular-season games and the entire playoffs because of a right knee injury.

Even with that experience under his belt, it didn't make dealing with his most recent injury any easier to swallow.

"These two weeks, they have been dark days for me," Garnett said. "Being hurt is not one of the things I like to be a part of; I hate it. I don't deal with it well. But as I get older, along with these knuckleheads keeping it real light for me, and keeping my spirits up, I just went through two-a-days, continue to work and doing what I got to do to get back. And again, tonight I felt stronger and just continue to build on this and hopefully we don't have any mishaps."

His return did not come as a surprise to Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whose game plan included prep work for dealing with Garnett.

"They have more size when he's there," Van Gundy said. "He's a great defender, anyway. And then he brings a lot of size to the table. They're a lot bigger. Kevin's length is huge for them defensively."

Magic forward Brandon Bass, who began Monday's game matched up against Garnett, didn't believe the long layoff impacted Garnett's game.

"He's a great player," Bass told CSNNE.com. "It doesn't matter how long he's out. Kevin Garnett is always going to be a tough challenge for you."

Especially when he's healthy, which is indeed the case right now.

"It doesn't always show up with his numbers, but his presence and his feel for the game and everything he does for this team goes far beyond the numbers," Pierce said. "We look like a team who is ready, who is energized, who is locked in, and you know that's the culture he's brought here since Day 1 he's been here and it's infectious. He raises everyone's play when he's on the court."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.