A resilient Boston Celtics squad shocked the basketball world with a 92-86 Game 5 playoff win against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. However, the victory wouldn't have been possible without a resurgent Kevin Garnett leading them.
Garnett finished with 16 points and 18 rebounds, in the process reminding everyone that it wasn't too long ago that he was one of the elite players in all the NBA. Garnett led the Celtics to the NBA Finals in both 2008 and 2010, both times just one game short of winning the title.
Things are different in 2013 and the 17-year veteran isn't quite the player he once was. However, this series has proven that at his best, Garnett is still one of the best power forwards in the game.
It has given Celtics head coach Doc Rivers no choice but to lean on Garnett as this series has unfolded.
"He was fantastic," Rivers told reporters following Game 5 Wednesday night. "We gave him a little break in the fourth quarter, which was hard to do."
Whether the decision really was hard or not, it worked out well for Rivers.
After sitting Garnett mid-way through the fourth, Rivers re-inserted him with 3:44 to go and the veteran power forward promptly responded with two rebounds and a game-clinching jumper in the final minutes. The big bucket came with less than 60 seconds to go and the Celtics clinging to an 88-83 lead. It ended a 7-0 Knicks run, and New York was only able to muster a harmless three-pointer at the buzzer following the shot. Garnett added two free throws with 40 seconds to seal the victory.
Garnett's big Game 5 performance has come to signify his entire series against New York.
After struggling with "only" eight points and nine rebounds in Game 1, Garnett has since been a double-double machine, recording four straight in Games 2 through 5. Garnett has been particularly solid on the boards, where he has recorded at least 17 in each of the last three games.
It's thanks in large part to Garnett's play that the Celtics are not only alive, but also have the Knicks in an uncomfortable spot heading into Game 6 Friday night in Boston. Although New York still has a 3-2 series lead, Boston has won two straight and now has the luxury of returning home to try to force a Game 7.
If the Celtics do push this series to seven games, the pressure would turn squarely onto the Knicks' shoulders.
New York hasn't won a playoff series since the 1999-2000 season.