Back when he was the superstar of his team many years back, the knock on Kevin Garnett was that he wouldn't always rise to the moment. That criticism was an era ago, eradicated by a championship and the passing of time. Now, we expect Garnett to do what he did against the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night, scoring 28 points, snaring 14 rebounds, blocking five shots and hitting the game-winning shot to propel the Celtics to the second round.
As someone who remembers all the stupid criticism Garnett had to endure with the Timberwolves, this all seems kind of weird. In another era, this would be a paradigm-shifting game for Garnett. The Celtics have relied on him as their backbone for the last four years, but rarely have they needed Garnett to be even more as badly as they did on Thursday night. Paul Pierce was limping around, Ray Allen isn't anything close to being himself after returning from injury in Game 3, Rajon Rondo was a step below his sometimes-brilliant self and Avery Bradley was playing through a lot of pain. This kind of game seems ripe for the cliche "legacy" discussion we have every single playoffs.
Instead, we're spending most of our time marveling at Garnett's post-game press conference.
First, Garnett called out Hawks minority owner Michael Gearon Jr. for saying he was a dirty player. Then, he objected to being classified as an older player, telling the media that he thinks they're being "disrespectful" for acting "shocked" that he is still able to do what he does. It was classic Garnett -- or, more accurately, "classic Celtics Garnett."
Now, there may be all sorts of psychological reasons for Garnett's post-game press conference. Maybe he was so jacked up inside that he needed to take it out on somebody. Maybe he wanted to deflect attention away from what he did on the court so that more people would write about the team as a whole.
But let's take his words at face value. Does he have a point?
Paul Flannery, in the middle of a must-read piece for WEEI, makes the point that nobody in the media at least has really called Garnett "old" this season.
But Garnett saved his sharpest barbs for those in the press who have been calling him old – although it’s a little uncertain who, exactly, has been writing such things:
In a literal sense, this is true. Pretty much every result for "Kevin Garnett old" on Google turns up an article about his rant on Thursday night. Perhaps Garnett feels his age is the subtext of everything negative written about him, but that's just it: it's subtext left open to the interpretation of the reader.
At the same time, let's look at Garnett's rant again, via Flannery's piece.
"You know what, man? I don’t want to come off kind of wrong here, so you tap me if I’m out of line here. But you guys, I’m really good at my craft and I take my craft really seriously. I guess being 35 – soon to be 36, not 37, 76 – look it up. I put a lot of work into my craft. I take this very seriously. I always have since  when I was able to come into this league and it’s almost like you guys are shocked."
Now, let's read it again, except let's change the wording at the end (bolded).
"You know what, man? I don’t want to come off kind of wrong here, so you tap me if I’m out of line here. But you guys, I’m really good at my craft and I take my craft really seriously. I guess being 35 – soon to be 36, not 37, 76 – look it up. I put a lot of work into my craft. I take this very seriously. I always have since  when I was able to come into this league and it’s almost like you guys forget about me."
Garnett's hardly an attention whore, but he certainly has been overlooked this season. The lockout and compressed season was supposed to be horrible for him. Instead, he moved to center, anchored the league's best defense (the Celtics allowed just 98.2 points per 100 possessions this year) since 2004, shouldered a greater offensive load that expected and missed just six games in the process. For his efforts, he was rewarded ... how, exactly?
Defensive Player Of The Year voting? Nope. Not only did Garnett not win, but he finished a distant fifth, behind Serge Ibaka (a shot-blocker, but not a good positional defender), Dwight Howard (who did what he did this year) and LeBron James.
All-Star voting? Nope. Garnett didn't play in the game for the first time since 1996.
All-NBA voting? It remains to be seen, but it's a safe bet Garnett won't be on any of the three teams.
Recognition by his own team? Those that know the Celtics well know Garnett's importance, but you could argue Rajon Rondo got more national attention and Paul Pierce was a bigger deal in the playoffs because of his breakout Game 2.
Part of this is by design, of course. While everyone else has ebbs and flows, Garnett is steady as ever. But even though Garnett's rant came a bit out of nowhere, it also came from a pretty logical place. Given all the circumstances, there really should be more appreciation for the kind of year Garnett put together. Instead, he's kind of become forgotten.
To Garnett, that's like saying he's gotten too old. That's not what people are actually saying, but to an athlete, every kind of disrespect is the same.
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