KG explodes back to greatness

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KG explodes back to greatness

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

MIAMI You notice it the most when he goes up for a rebound.

Actually, "goes up" doesn't do the motion any sort of justice. He explodes. He literally jumps as high as he can, like a wannabe-NBA-rookie getting measured for his pre-draft vertical.

Even when he has the most basic rebound in front of him one of those boards where the other nine guys have already released by the time the ball falls off the rim he grabs it with nothing less than reckless abandon. He'll snatch the rock on his way up, slap it so hard that James Naismith's original peach basket can feel it, and then he'll just float in the air for a second. He'll let out a little scream, or violently kick one of his legs out to the side. He'll act without hesitation, or concern for himself and his surroundings.

Kevin Garnett does all this because he can.

If we're being honest, it feels wrong, maybe even a little insulting to write a paragraph (or two) commending one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history on his ability to jump, rebound, or do anything you'd expect out of even the Joel Anthonys of the world. It's like marveling over a 90 MPH Roy Halladay fastball or an LT touchdown run.

But anyone who watched Kevin Garnett over the course of last season which I assume includes anyone who's still reading this story realizes how fortunate they are to once again see him perform at this current level of legitimacy.

To see him run down the floor without looking like he just stubbed his toe. To see him hit the ground and get up without limping, looking down at his knee or screaming, "I'm OK! I'm OK!" like he was trying to convince himself of something that clearly wasn't true. To see him go up for loose rebounds in traffic by jumping off and coming down on both legs, instead favoring his left leg on every landing. To see him not only fight for position on the block, but actually win those fights.

To see him play like Kevin Garnett.

Honestly, did you ever believe you'd see that again?

I didn't. Sure, we knew Garnett would be better this season, a full year removed from his surgery. We expected him to be faster, stronger, more confident, and to brush off at least some of the rust that had built up over the previous 18 months. He showed glimpses of that in last year's playoffs. He looked like he was getting better. But he still had such a long way to go. He still wasn't even a shadow of the guy whod helped raise Banner 17.

It's easy to forget this now, but Garnett literally couldn't catch an alley-oop last year. He missed more lay-ups in 69 games than he had in the previous 16 seasons combined. He was routinely getting punked by the likes of Andray Blatche, Al Harrington and Kris Humphries.

He looked like he lost it. And most of the time in this league, when a guy like KG who started young, and went on to play an ungodly amount of minutes loses it, it's lost. Look what happened to Tracy McGrady. A few years ago he was averaging 25 points a game. Then he suffered a knee injury, and now hes a mop up man for the Pistons. And he's only 31.

KG's 34. You knew his mind would never quit, and that's why you still held out hope that he'd come back better this season. But you had to wonder how much his body had left in the tank.

At least I did. But I'm not wondering anymore.

On Thursday night in Miami, Garnett posted his fifth double-double in only his ninth game of the season. Last year, he had 10 double-doubles in 69 games. He already has three games with three or more steals, after doing that only twice all of last year. His scoring is up, but even more impressive is how he's scoring. Yeah, there's still a lot of jump shots. But he's also running the floor. He's finishing at the rim. He's converting on dunks, alley-oops and put backs which, I know, still only count for two points, but are also so indicative of what he's able to do and how much he's able to trust in that knee.

And even then, it's not really about numbers with KG. It never is. It's about that movement; that agility; that fire and explosiveness. It's about how much space he can cover on defense, how many jump balls he can win off the glass, how much he can effect the ebb and flow of every single game by just being wild and crazy KG.

Last year, that wasn't there. Last year, he would have been eaten up by Chris Bosh. Hell, he wouldve been dominated by Joel Anthony. But last night, he was in control. He was dominating.

Listen, I can't sit here and claim that Garnetts been transported back into the prime of his career. The Garnett we see now isn't as good as the man we saw in 2007, never mind all those legendary seasons before he was here. But while to this point, much of his season at least from a national perspective has been marred by the Charlie Villanueva incident. For those who care more about KG the basketball player, this season has been about one of the game's all-time greats once again returning to greatness.

Maybe he's not the old KG. In reality, he'll never again be the old KG. But at least now hes back to being KG. At least now, for the first time since he limped off the court that February night in Utah, you watch him and never forget that seeing one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history.

And if you haven't seen it yet, just watch the next time he goes up sorry, explodes for one of those rebounds.

I promise you it's there.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.