CBS Sports basketball analyst Wally Szczerbiak joined Dennis & Callahan Wednesday morning and admitted he's been proven wrong for writing earlier in the Eastern Conference finals that Kevin Garnett is not a clutch player.
Szczerbiak, a one-time Celtics swingman who had a frosty relationship with Garnett when the two were teammates on the Timberwolves for 6 1/2 seasons, tweeted during the Celtics' Game 2 loss in Miami that Garnett lacked the "clutch gene and always has." Garnett since has been a force in helping the C's win three straight.
"Like he said in his interview last night, it's incredible what he's doing right now at his age," Szczerbiak said. "It is a credit to his craft, how professional he is. … He's playing the best basketball quite possibly I've ever seen him play, at the biggest moments. It's just incredible.
"The reason why I put the tweet out there about the clutch gene is to be objective," Szczerbiak continued. "In our profession, our job is to be objective. We put LeBron on blast for not having the clutch gene. Watching KG throughout his career, now with Boston, I just threw it out there that, hey, let's keep an eye on KG at crunch time and see what he does at crunch time. Because in years past, when we were with Minnesota, we had guys like Sam Cassell that took the big shot. Now with Boston he has Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. And to KG's credit, why wouldn't you defer to those guys at the end of games? They're big-shot-makers. Paul Pierce showed it again last night.
"Having said that, KG proved me completely wrong last night. [He] made two huge free throws down the stretch and made a big 15-footer. If I'm one of the naysayers that's helping motivate KG play at this level, then maybe the Boston fans owe me a little thank you. Because he's just playing off the charts."
Szczerbiak said there was a specific incident early in his career that marred his relationship with Garnett. He wouldn't reveal what it was, but he insisted, "We've gotten over it."
"We learned to get along very amicably," Szczerbiak said. "We had seven great years. He was a phenomenal teammate. He took me as a player to extraordinary heights. He helped me make the All-Star team, helped us make the playoffs every single year, we made the Western Conference finals. Unfortunately, as a team, we couldn't achieve that ultimate goal, which was an NBA championship. He's achieved it in Boston with other great players around him, great coaches, great organization. Credit to him."
On the other side of the floor, LeBron James continues to struggle in the clutch. Szczerbiak said something has changed since he played alongside James in Cleveland for a year and a half.
"When I first got traded to the Cavs [in 2008], my first conversation with [then-coach] Mike Brown was, 'Wally, our job is to just get the game into the fourth quarter, give the ball to LeBron in the last five minutes and he'll win it every single time.' And he did," Szczerbiak said. "We knew where the ball was going, we knew he was going to come through for us. Ever since, though, he's gotten to Miami, he's been totally different I think at the end of games. I think it was evident in Game 4 in Boston. I thought he made a horrible decision at the end of the game, not even getting a shot up, allowing the defense to dictate what he was going to do with the ball on the last possession and not attacking the defense and making the defense react to him. And then last night, he was deferring to Wade. … He has not been the same player that I remember playing with in Cleveland in Miami in those clutch situations."
Following are more highlights from the interview.
On Doc Rivers: "He's the best coach I've ever played for. He just knows, he gets it. He knows what's going through the mind of a player. He knows how to get a player into a rhythm, how to get him going, how to get him the ball in his sweet spot where he can make a play, where he can make a shot. And then he can start playing better defense. He's done a great job for the Celtics."
On Heat coach Erik Spoelstra: "Erik Spoelstra's going to have to answer a lot of questions, let me tell you. Just what they run at the end of games. I look at Doc Rivers, he runs a cross screen in the last two minutes for KG to get him the ball five feet from the basket with a smaller guy on his back. It just seems like Erik Spoelstra makes [Dwyane] Wade and James beat the Celtics 1-on-5 from the top of the key or halfcourt. I don't see any getting the guys in a good position where they can score, getting the guys the ball with an advantage to score."
On Thursday's Game 6: "It's so tough to win on the road. What Boston did last night was a big-time win. To go in there in a pressure situation, a pressure game, and get that victory was just big. Now, all the pressure swings to the Celtics. They have to come out, they have to defend home court. They're going to get Miami's best effort. Miami's got a lot of pride in that locker room and they have some great players in that locker room. And they have Chris Bosh getting healthy. … Right now Boston's a team, and right now Miami's a little bit fragile."
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