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Kevin Garnett had been written off to the dustbin of history. His skills in serious decline and his bark having become decidedly worse than his bite, a reputation for empty trash talk had caught up with KG and reduced the 36 year-old Big Ticket to a side show.
As conventional wisdom shifted underfoot, it appeared during the first half of the 2011-2012 NBA regular season that Garnett’s aging knees would only take him as far as his retirement press conference, his Celtics a one-and-done champion that would be sold for parts at year’s end.
But the sports media, they of the mayfly attentions-spans, forgot one crucial thing:
Kevin Garnett is freaking insane, and couldn’t care less what any of us think.
More than that, since the All Star break, he has reemerged as a fearsome and dominant force as the engine of the Celtics renewal- fueling a rapidly dawning realization that the old champs are far from done.
With apologies to Tyson Chandler (whose highest compliment during his DPOY season was having been compared to a prime-time KG), Garnett has used these playoffs to reestablish himself as the best defensive player in basketball. Barking out orders and anchoring Boston’s brutal defense, he has looked into the face of Father Time and spat.
Garnett has joined Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in willful and unprecedented defiance of their age, extending their careers by avoiding the predicable decline in production that flesh has always been heir to. While Kobe has kept his remarkable numbers afloat well into his 30’s and Duncan’s fundamentals have kept him as lethal as ever, Garnett has pulled off what is arguably a much harder trick: reversing a downward trend. After multiple knee surgeries in May of 2009, he averaged career lows (excepting his rookie year) in points and rebounds during the 2009/2010 season. Over the next two seasons, those numbers stabilized and reversed themselves, eventually returning to 2008 levels- the year of the Celtics last title. Moreover, in these playoffs, his numbers have spiked dramatically – throwing up 19.2 points and 11 rebounds per game with a PER of 22.89, numbers not seen since his last playoff run in Minnesota.
Hit the jump for the rest of Martin’s piece…
However, statistics provide an insufficient picture of what’s happening in Boston. KG is moving better, snarling, scowling, challenging shots and protecting the rim. He’s back to coordinating the Celtic defensive effort, and, suddenly, the chest-pounding and trash-talk that had been the subject of much eye rolling over the past few years seems imbued with substantiation and purpose. His 27 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists (resulting in a gaudy +47 “+/-” figure) in Thursday’s Game 3 victory is an indication that Garnett’s eyes have gone black with the smell of blood. If his body can match his mental focus, the Eastern Conference might field as it’s representative a Boston team more terrifying than the one that brutalized the Lakers in 2008.
But back to my thesis: Kevin Garnett is freaking insane. By which I mean: KG has been rocking out at “11” for seventeen seasons. He has no other setting. That any human can play at this level of volcanic intensity for so long a time (so intense that he’s rendered use of the word “intense” a cliché in itself) is baffling. He belongs to that small club of athletes able to will their own reality into existence – MJ, Kobe, Duncan, Magic, Bird and Russell. It’s not necessarily just about greatness – plenty of great players have lacked this trait. It’s about a howling, stubborn refusal to accept an unsatisfactory reality- which is a kind of insanity. I think this is what people really, perhaps unwittingly, mean when they say “Kevin Garnet is CRAZY” (and they DO say that.)
Any Celtic fan will tell you that despite Paul Pierce’s regular heroics and Rajon Rondo’s indispensable Swiss-army-knife play, Garnett is the straw that stirs the drink, and as he goes, so goes Boston. With Indiana looking bullish against Miami, we could easily be seeing a scenario by which the Celtics’ path to the finals consists of Atlanta, Philadelphia and Indiana. Crazy indeed. Avoiding Derrick Rose and LeBron James to win the East represents a parting of the seas that can’t help but invoke a sense of destiny for an emotionally fueled squad like the Celtics. With a rejuvenated Kevin Garnett at the helm, anything may in fact be possible.