As we all know, Kevin Garnett came up huge in the closing seconds of last night's game. The steal on Telfair was a thing of beauty, and although I think the celebration might have been a little over the top, I've got to admit to being pumped after the game last night. KG gets major props for being a proverbial warrior; after leaving the game with an abdominal injury, he came back in with two minutes left and grabbed two big rebounds, and had the aforementioned steal.
All's well that ends well, right? Or is it? Should we be considering whether it was prudent to have KG in the game at all? Should we have any sort of concern from Mark Murphy's morning Boston Herald article?
[W]hen Garnett went to the locker room with 6:19 left in last night’s 87-86 win over Minnesota after doubling over in pain on the floor, his trouble became everyone else’s panic. ...
... "It felt like I got sniped from the rafters or something," Garnett said of the initial pain. "I had a sharp pain come from my stomach, and I wanted the doctors to look at it. They said I was fine, so I came back out.
"I wasn’t going to do anything that would jeopardize my future and all that, but my philosophy has always been that if I can play, if I can run, if I can move, if I can blink, if I can wake up in the morning, I’m going to play".
... "I wasn’t going to put him back in," said Celts coach Doc Rivers. "I’m getting a thumbs up from Dr. (Brian) McKeon and a thumbs down from (trainer) Eddie Lacerte, and it’s just crazy. And Kevin was just psycho.
"It was a tough call to make," he said. "I didn’t want to put him back in, and he was begging, ‘Please do it, please.’ I was going to err on the side of caution."
Murphy goes on to add that "Garnett’s closing play considered, [erring on the side of caution] would have been a mistake." Is that necessarily true, though? As has been said, it's a long season. The Celtics are 34-7, and even if they had lost last night, they would be 33-8, five fewer losses than anybody else in the Eastern Conference. Is it worth playing KG against the advice of the team trainer, just to try to pick up one additional win? Is this any different than when many of us had previously called for Ray Allen or Rajon Rondo to get extended rest, even if it cost us a few games in the standings?
Of course, the counter-point to all of that is that last night's game was a big one. Coming into the game, the Celtics had lost four of their last eight games, all of them to supposedly inferior teams. The Celtics were in danger of losing to the team with the worst record in the NBA, at home, in a game that many players and fans were emotionally invested in. A loss like that can no doubt be more damaging that the average one; the hurt the team would have felt wouldn't have been in the standings, but rather psychologically. For Garnett especially, last night's game likely had added meaning, despite his repeated statements to the contrary. Had the game been lost, would it have hurt the team's confidence?
In a vacuum, and without the benefit of hindsight, I think I would have sat KG in those circumstances. He's much too important to this team's success this year, and I wouldn't want to see a player aggravate an injury that could hold him out for a substantial period of time, all in the name of potentially winning one more game. However, basketball isn't played in a vacuum, and I'm sure Doc was persuaded by KG's insistence, by the crowd, and by a strong desire to win.
In these circumstances, then, does Doc deserve criticism for putting a player at risk just to win a meaningless game? Does he get credit for having faith in his player in a crucial situation, and re-energizing a team that was on the ropes? Does the fact that the team won render any such conversation moot? I'm not 100% positive on these questions, but man, that sure was a sweet steal.