BOSTON -- There was a moment early in the fourth quarter that summed up everything Kevin Garnett would like to be remembered for whenever it is he retreats fully into the secluded life of the hermit, taking with him those frenzied torrents of four-letter screams that come cascading out of him like so much tortured angst. It's those screams people will remember and some will not remember them fondly, but deep beneath whatever it is that drives him into such a manic froth beats the heart of a savvy traditionalist.
"His play obviously is what everybody focuses on, but I think what people miss -- I can guarantee the people in Minnesota they miss what he does in the locker room," Doc Rivers said. "They miss what he does on the floor in practice every day, his work ethic, his ability to give himself to a team. It's rare that you see a superstar do that and he does it. He gives himself completely to his team and tells them to use him whatever way they want. It's nice to have. That's what I think he brings to a franchise, is a star who's over himself."
So, here was the play. Kevin Love had the ball outside the three-point arc with Garnett defending. Love surveyed the scene. There was no one open. Garnett was up tight with a hand extended in Love's face, but not so far as to leave himself exposed if Love decided to put the ball on the ground and drive baseline. He was in textbook defensive position, coiled and ready for whatever.
Love hesitated for just a moment and Garnett pounced, knocking the ball from his hands and then quickly scooping it up and getting it to a guard to start the break. Love stayed there for a split second while Garnett seized the opening and sprinted to the opposite baseline where the Minnesota defense recovered to pick him up. Garnett never saw the ball, but he had done his job. With the defense sagging in the paint, Jason Terry knocked down a three-pointer, pushing the lead to 15 and essentially putting the game out of reach.
Here it was in the early stages of December in Garnett's 18th season as a pro in a game between two teams struggling to stay above .500. He's been in the league literally half his life and he's running like it's the seventh game of the NBA Finals. The whole play was as fundamental as anything that has ever been taught at Five Star and it explained Garnett's whole reason for being on a basketball court.
"He's KG," Love would say later. "He didn't leave me when he was out there more than once tonight. He hit big shots early, set the tone. He pokes and prods and elbows and jabs. He just does whatever he needs to do in order for his team to win and that sums up Kevin Garnett to me."
Garnett began the game by making his first five shots and wound up with a tidy double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds. He scored inside and out, but professed to not really care about any of it.
"My primary is to come out and try to slow the best player down," Garnett said. "Offensively I thought I was in a good rhythm. The ball felt good to me but when I'm out there hooping man, I'm not really conscious when it comes to defense. My energy needs to be my primary role but I'm efficient."
There are several things that are not quite right with the Celtics at this point in the season, but Garnett is not one of them. He came into Wednesday's game shooting 52 percent and averaging about 16 points and 8 rebounds per game, just like he's done every year since he's been in Boston. When he's on the court the Celtics are still very good. When he's not they're vulnerable, which has more or less been the way it's been around here for the last few years.
It was suggested that perhaps he had been more up for this game as it was against the franchise where he spent the first dozen years of his career and against whom the KG-led Celtics are 10-0.
"Absolutely not," he said, although no one really believed him.
Garnett was traded on July 31, 2007, for a package of players that included Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Al Jefferson and Theo Ratliff. There were two draft picks included in the deal that netted Wayne Ellington and Jonny Flynn. None of those players are still with the Timberwolves. In fact, none of the players who were in Minnesota during the 2007-08 season are still with the franchise.
Yet Garnett's menacing shadow still looms large. Predictably the first question asked to Wolves coach Rick Adelman before Wednesday's game was about Garnett and just as predictably Adelman shot it down.
"I know Kevin played here a long time but I don't think there's too many people around that were here," Adelman said. "It's a nice thing to write about but what matters is what happens on the court."
If Garnett has made peace with the Wolves he's not letting on, but at the very least he's made peace with Love as their franchise player, as evidenced by his referencing the young forward. "This is a very good team we played tonight," Garnett said. "Kevin Love has (a good) cast over there and it was by no means an easy game."
Few of them are for the Celtics these days, but as long as they have Garnett they have a chance. You can surround him with shit and he'll turn it into the meanest souffle. His legacy is deep, convoluted and complicated. It certainly can't be summed up in the course of a thousand words or in 140 characters of Twitter snark. Ever game, Rivers gave it a shot.
"I don't know if everyone understands, even on our team, or publically who Kevin Garnett really is as far as what he's done, his body of work," the coach said. "There's the Hall of Fame and then there's a table at the Hall of Fame and Kevin Garnett is at the table. There's very few people who get to the sit at the table."
That will have to do for now because Garnett is not done. There's another back-to-back to play this weekend, 64 more games and four and half more months to go before KG and the Celtics give the playoffs another go. He'll play them all, or as many as his body will allow, and he'll play them like heaven and hell depend on it, spewing invective and raging against whatever unfortunate soul happens to be lined up across from him.
"He just plays hard every minute," an appreciative Adelman said. "He's going to compete the whole time he's on the court. He's the star that does all the little things. Whatever it takes he's going to do that. It's been that way since he's been in the league."