I engaged in a big debate the other day with a couple of Celts bloggers that insisted that it was a travesty for KG to make the All Star team this year. They went so far as to call him a role player on this team, and a part-time role player at that, since he had missed 11 games and only averages about 15 and 7. I tried to get my point across by describing the ways that KG changes the game for his teammates, making it easier for everyone and I used some advanced stats and team stats to try to make my point.
Didn't really work.
Well today, I wish I had those guys' e-mail address because the 4th quarter of this game could have been exhibit A for what I was talking about. KG had 3 definite, tangible effects and 1 big intangible effect that completely shifted the last 5 minutes of the game. And none of them show up in the box scores, which tell me only that KG had 17 and 2 in 31 minutes.
Effect 1: Garnett absolutely froze up Craig Smith, who was torching the team. I was watching the Celtics broadcast, and Tommy spent the whole 4th quarter lamenting how Craig Smith was keeping the Clippers in the game. At one point he said something like, "The Celtics might want to pay attention to this Smith guy, because right about now he thinks he could climb the Empire State Building from the outside". Baby, Perk, and I believe Sheed all took their turns getting roasted. This is what Smith's contributions in the box score look like from the 9 minute mark to the 4 minute mark:
8:41 Craig Smith makes 5-foot two point shot (Rasual Butler assists)
7:56 Craig Smith makes free throw 1 of 2
7:56 Craig Smith makes free throw 2 of 2
7:03 Craig Smith makes free throw 1 of 2
7:03 Craig Smith misses free throw 2 of 2
6:37 Craig Smith misses free throw 1 of 2
6:37 Craig Smith makes free throw 2 of 2
6:11 Craig Smith makes layup (Rasual Butler assists)
5:43 Craig Smith makes driving layup
4:50 Craig Smith makes free throw 1 of 2
4:50 Craig Smith misses free throw 2 of 2
Smith outscored the entire Celtics team 11 - 9 over a four minute period in the 4th. Then, with about four minutes left in the game, KG got switched onto him. This is what the rest of the game looked like for the two of them:
3:55 Kevin Garnett makes 15-foot jumper (post over Smith)
3:19 Craig Smith misses two point shot (hounded by KG)
1:45 Craig Smith misses layup (hounded by KG)
1:04 Kevin Garnett makes layup (Rajon Rondo assists)
0:34 Craig Smith personal foul (Kevin Garnett draws the foul)
0:34 Steve Novak enters the game for Craig Smith
Effect 2: The big man scoring threat late. Again, watching the Celtics broadcast, Tommy practically stood up and cheered every time they threw the ball in to KG on the post with under 5 minutes left. Not just because he was making the shot, but because he COULD make the shot and he COULD make the free throw and he COULD make the pass. Pierce and Allen have well-earned clutch scoring reputations, but over the last few weeks the Celtics' crunchtime offense was extremely predictable since everyone knew either Pierce or Allen were likely to iso or shoot a long ball. Rondo and Perk were shaky late because of their free throw issues, and Sheed seems to primarily want to spot up for the trey, which haven't been exactly reliable late in games. With Garnett in there the entire way the crunch offense runs is different, because if he's involved the other team HAS to respect him. Suddenly, Pierce's isos are 1-on-1 mismatches as the opponent can't help off of Garnett. Suddenly, Rondo is getting wide open face-up looks off the dribble from 13 feet as his man has to stick to KG. Or, if the team doesn't respect KG enough, you see him score 7 points in the last 5 minutes to make them pay.
Effect 3: The Mantis of Baron Davis. I can't even find it in the play-by-play, but trust me on this, late in the game with the Cs still only up by about 6 points or so, the Clippers had a run-out fast break. Baron Davis had the ball and he took it to the cup, with someone (Ricky Davis? Rasual Butler?) spotted up at the 3-point line. KG was the only one back, and he funneled Davis all the way to the rim and swallowed him. Davis tried to kick it back out to the shooter, but KG 1-man trapped him on the baseline on the dead run and knocked the ball into the stands. This put the clamps on a potential momentum swinging dunk or long-ball that could have gotten the Clips back into it. Plus, this led to...
Intangible effect: After mantis-ing Davis, KG went over to the sideline and Hulk Hogan-ed the crowd into a frenzy. I wasn't even there, but even on TV you could tell the place just went nuts. He didn't quite spaz out like he did in that Rockets game his first year in green, but I think everyone there knew at that point that the Celtics just weren't losing this game.
And again, none of these things show up in the box score. If you are an adherent of advanced stats, KG is actually among the team leaders (if not leading outright) in almost all of them, and many of those stats actually come from interpreting the box scores. But in addition to whatever he might contribute to the boxes, KG is one of the few players that can take over a game by doing things that aren't even measured. They're tangible, and if you watch close they are obvious, but if you didn't watch the game and all you saw was that he had 17 and 2...you'd have completely missed it.