Top stories of 2010, No. 10: Kevin Garnett’s return to form
|12.22.10 at 11:05 am ET|
For the final 10 days of 2010, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year. In what was a memorable 12 months for all four of Boston’s major professional teams, there was a plethora of compelling storylines. The list begins with No. 10: Kevin Garnett’s return to form for the Celtics.
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The whispers began even before training camp started: Kevin Garnett was back. In informal scrimmages Garnett had been assertive, aggressive and more talkative than ever. A skeptical public simply nodded and said, “We’ll see.”
On the first day of camp, Garnett was bouncy and joyful. A complete reversal from the dark shadow of doubt that seemed to hang over him throughout the 2009-10 season. “I feel very strong,” he said. “I feel very vibrant. I’m excited about the year.” It was a far cry from the summer, which he described as, “Very painful, very dark.”
It was a summer that began with a crushing loss in Game 7 against the Lakers in a series that exposed the Celtics’ biggest weakness — defensive rebounding — as Garnett was unable to keep up with Pau Gasol on the boards.
There had been glimmers of the old Garnett throughout the playoffs. He destroyed Antawn Jamison in the conference semifinals and rendered Rashard Lewis an afterthought in the next round. But when Gasol rather innocently pointed out after Game 1 of the finals that Garnett had lost a step, the expected answer from KG was nowhere to be found.
Garnett had lost a step. That was obvious by even a cursory glance at his numbers and was succinctly summed up in a handful of painfully obvious plays, such as Lewis beating Garnett baseline for a game-winning shot during the regular season. The Celtics kept insisting publicly that Garnett was fine less than a year removed from knee surgery that kept him out of the 2009 playoffs, but everyone knew otherwise.
Finally, on media day, Garnett relented.
“I think more mentally than anything was hard for me because I was playing through some difficult times,” he said. “I’m not one to make excuses. I’m not the one to be out here [whining] and complaining about things.”
Training camp offered decent clues, but no real solid evidence. Garnett appeared to be moving better, but preseason games are preseason games. The real test would come soon enough when the Celtics opened the season against the Heat. His 10 points and 10 rebounds may not have seemed like much, but it was a strong start and his defense on Chris Bosh was undeniable.
That was followed by 15 rebounds against the Cavaliers the next night and 10 more against the Knicks, which looked even better when you consider that Garnett had only one three-game double-digit rebounding stretch all of last season. The numbers have only continued to build:
- He had 14 double-digit rebounding games through 26 games, compared to 12 in all of 2009-10.
- His 54 percent field goal percentage is the highest of his career, as is his 86 percent free throw shooting.
- He’s averaging 10 rebounds a game, his highest mark as a Celtic.
Dig a little deeper and the numbers are even better for Garnett. His defensive rebounding rate is 31.3 percent. In other words, Garnett is grabbing almost a third of the available defensive rebounds when he is on the court. To put that in perspective, only three players — Toronto’s Reggie Evans, Minnesota’s Kevin Love and Portland’s Marcus Camby — rebound defensively at a better rate than Garnett.
In fact, his defensive rebounding rate is the highest it’s been since the era from 2003-06 when he was unquestionably the best rebounder in the game and arguably the best player in the league. He has almost single-handily turned the Celtics back into one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the league, and he’s done it without his rock-solid running mate up front, Kendrick Perkins.
“Kevin is rebounding out in space now,” Doc Rivers told WEEI.com earlier this season. “Last year I thought he did a good job rebounding, but with the injury, if the ball was out in space he couldn’t go get it. I think what he’s doing now, he’s getting a lot of rebounds out of his space and he hasn’t done that since his first year he was here.”
In the same conversation, the coach also relented on the unspoken policy of not talking about Garnett’s injuries. “When you’re injured as a player, you’re never happy. The last two years people have no idea the amount of pain that he’s had to play through. We don’t obviously make a big deal out of it because we can’t. We didn’t want people to know.”
He is not only attacking the glass, he’s also reconnected with Rajon Rondo on a number of alley-oop dunks. The days of playing in front of Garnett on the post are over. To do so would be to invite an unwelcome guest appearance on a poster after the inevitable Rondo lob.
The question that hangs uncomfortably around Garnett’s revival is: How long will it last? His contract is up after next season and he hinted that if a lockout happens after this season, he may not stick around to see the other side. He has also made it clear that he doesn’t want to play for any other coach besides Rivers, who is in the final season of his contract and debated long and hard about coming back.
We may be watching the final act of Garnett’s career, and it’s a bit of justice that after toiling for good, but never great, teams in Minnesota, his renaissance is coming on one of the NBA’s best teams. Garnett has his championship, now he is seeking redemption.
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