It’s no secret that Joakim Noah doesn’t like Kevin Garnett very much and it’s a storyline that owes more to wrestling that basketball. The backstory: Noah grew up idolizing Garnett and then expressed his shock that Garnett didn’t return the favor when they met as professionals. Noah has since called Garnett “mean” and “ugly,” to which Doc Rivers quipped, “He’s definitely mean.”
What happened Friday night when they met again on the court was what has happened to so many other young players who have dared cross KG: Noah got taught a lesson.
“It’s not that he’s up for it,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “These young cats have no respect. So Kevin just has to teach them.” Garnett scored 20 points and had 17 rebounds and he didn’t just dominate the glass, he owned the entire paint. “KG looked like the 95-96 KG out there,” O’Neal said.
With their big men in foul trouble all night long, Garnett held things together against not only Noah, but also Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson and the Celtics prevailed 104-92 in a game that was oddly closer and also not as close as the final score indicated. (Click here for a full recap).
Garnett was asked about Noah postgame and repeated his line about, “not entertaining, nor addressing nobodies.” But that wasn’t the most important thing that Garnett said Friday night. This was:
“At some point, especially with the lockout coming up, who knows if this is my last year or if we don’t play next what it’s going to be. So I’m trying to enjoy the guys now, you know.”
So now it’s out there. Garnett can see the end of his career in sight and it’s been an amazing one. Better perhaps than even his most ardent admirers give him credit for.
He’s determined to enjoy the hell out of whatever time he has left, and frankly, we all should too. It would have been a shame if Garnett had limped off the stage playing like he did last year, when young cats all around the league challenged him and he just didn’t have it in his body to respond.
“I’m healthy,” he said. “Doc knows my history. I don’t like to really share that with you guys. People who are in this locker room, the fam, they know what I’ve been dealing with. I don’t like the sob story. Everybody deals with it. I’m healthy. I’m feeling fresh. I’m revived a little bit.”
Revived is putting it way too mildly. Garnett is reborn. Rivers has been saying that the difference is that Garnett is rebounding in space, which is obviously something he wasn’t able to do last season.
“He’s always had a knack for the ball,” Rajon Rondo said. “Right now he’s so explosive. He’s jumping over people, getting rebounds. That’s only a good thing for us, and a bad thing for the rest of the teams.”
It’s also a good thing for anyone who enjoys the game. This is the Kevin Garnett we have all come to know and it’s the only way he should be remembered.
Here are three more things from Friday night:
RAJON RONDO’S SCARY FALL
It was only a false alarm, but it was enough to send a shiver through everyone on the Celtics bench. Rajon Rondo went one way, his knee stayed where it was, and then he crumpled to the floor in a heap.
“Scary moment for everybody, man,” Garnett said. “But he’s a tough cookie.”
Rondo was a little shaken up when it happened as well, but he said after the game that he was fine. At least his knee was fine. The rest of him isn’t feeling so great.
He tweaked his hamstring again early in the game and he indicated to Rivers that he wanted to come out of the game. By the time Nate Robinson was buzzed in, Rondo was feeling better.
“I told Doc to come get me, then I kept going,” Rondo said. “I just tried to fight through it and I was fine.”
So, while the knee is not a problem, the hamstring still is and the foot is definitely still a problem. He’s playing almost 40 minutes a night and truthfully that’s too much. Even Rondo conceded as much.
“I’m going to be very disappointed, but I agree,” Rondo said about scaling back his minutes. “As long as we win I could care less really. I just want to win the most games as we possibly can before the [All-Star] break.”
That seems to be the plan that’s emerging as Rivers tried to piece together a rotation out of the carnage that has already felled Delonte West and Jermaine O’Neal along with Kendrick Perkins. Win as many games as possible and then ease off eventually.
The only problem is that no one knows when the reinforcements will arrive. Until then the Celtics will continue to hold their breath whenever anyone hits the floor, lands awkwardly or tweaks something. There’s no other choice.
IS VON WAFER THE ANSWER?
Rivers knows that’s pressing his luck a bit with his minutes for his starters. His bench left him little choice in the first half after they lost a 12-point lead.
In the second half he mixed and matched his big men beautifully after foul trouble sent Shaq and then Glen Davis to the bench. He stretched Garnett out for 30 of the first 35 minutes and then brought him back early in the fourth quarter to deliver the knockout punch. Fortunately his plan worked and he was able to rest his starters. But he knows it’s not a long-term solution.
“We’ve got to get one more guy to play,” Rivers said. “Von [Wafer] is probably the first candidate. We’ve got to figure out a way of getting him going a little bit.”
For his part Wafer says that he’s ready. He’s had an uneven introduction to the Celtics, but he said that he has learned from the experience.
“This is the first team I’ve been on a team like this,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about professionalism, what it takes to be a champion. These guys are incredible.”
He’s frustrated about his lack of playing time. Who wouldn’t be, but he’s determined to take advantage of his opportunity whenever it arises, and he’s also determined to not be a problem.
“Just do what I’ve been doing, coming into the gym, getting shots up,” Wafer said. “Stay out of the way, listen to what they say, just don’t become a distraction. I want to be a part of this because this is something special. That frustration doesn’t even matter. I’ve just bought in to what’s going on around here. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
THE BENCH COMES THROUGH
You can make a very convincing argument that the starting five for the Celtics is the best in the league. But the bench? The bench has some issues.
Most of their issues are, of course, injury related. Davis and Marquis Daniels have done their jobs, but West was supposed to take some of the ballhandling duties away from Robinson and allow him to be more of a scorer.
The frontcourt depth is thin and with Shaq in the starting lineup, Rivers has been forced to adjust from the unit he envisioned back in training camp.
“You’re always worried about balance,” Rivers said. “That’s where the injuries [hurt]. Your original plan was your second unit would have a dominant post player but he’s with the starters now.”
So Rivers has been playing Ray Allen and Paul Pierce with the four main reserves and that has stretched out their minutes and also taken them away from the starters, which is in nobody’s interest.
The bench coughed up a first-quarter lead and Rivers took the blame for that saying he messed up the rotations. But in the second half they were able to maintain the lead and that allowed the Celtics to finish a game strong for a change.
Rivers pushed the right buttons in the second half, but this is his challenge each and every night and it’s not going to get any easier.