By A. Sherrod Blakely
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.
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."