Atlanta Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon Jr. might have made a tactical error yesterday when he let slip that he believed the Celtics' Kevin Garnett was, as he so eloquently put it, "the dirtiest guy in the league." Because apparently word got back to KG, and he responded in the Celtics' Game 6 showdown with those Hawks tonight.
"First off I want to say thank you to their owner for giving me some extra gas tonight," Garnett fired away, apropos of nothing, minutes after leading the Celtics to an 83-80 victory that ended the Hawks' season. "My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, to actually know what he's talking about."
Well, "typical KG" might be an understatement. This was KG squared. This was one of the game's all-time great competitors making a career-defining statement.
If it looked like KG was playing like a desperate man, his back up against the wall and his legacy hanging in the balance, in Game 6 against the Hawks tonight, then there's a simple explanation: He pretty much was.
He couldn't let this series get to a Game 7. Not going back to Atlanta. Not with a handful of his teammates banged up and the Hawks having seized the momentum, with Al Horford back in the mix and cranking out productive 40-minute performances. The time to take a stand was now -- if he didn't will his team to victory in this game, it might be the last home game he ever played at the TD Garden.
Paul Pierce had a sprained MCL and wasn't his usual (somewhat) mobile self. Ray Allen was playing through his ankle injury, but his shot was off by just a touch. So KG stepped up and did KG things.
Twenty-eight points, 14 rebounds, five blocks, three steals and two assists later, the C's were at the podium, talking about a first-round series win. They knew who to thank.
"He was phenomenal," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Garnett. "He bailed us out. Really. You could see Ray -- just his legs, he couldn't get into his shot. Never seen him miss that many free throws in my life. Paul gave us everything he had, but he didn't have a lot. Then Kevin, he was phenomenal. Fantastic."
"I know Truth was banged up a little bit, so all of us had to account for some of his scoring within the offense," Garnett said, deflecting the individual praise. "That's all. I just took my opportunities when I had them. Nothing more, nothing less than that."
This is a legacy playoff run for KG. He's in the final year of his max contract extension with the Celtics, he's got a 36th birthday awaiting him next week, and he knows this may well be his last chance to win with this team. He's always been motivated, but this time around, he's taking it to a whole new level.
And he hears everyone that's out there doubting him. Whether it's a co-owner of the Atlanta Hawks, or a fan heckling him from the eighth row, or a media pundit calling him old, he hears it all. It's firing him up now more than ever.
"You know what, man? I'm going to come off kind of wrong here, so tap me if I'm out of line," Garnett said, gesturing to teammate Rajon Rondo by his side at the podium. "But I really hone my craft, and I take my craft very seriously. And being 35, soon to be 36, I put a lot of work into my craft. I take this very seriously. I always have, since '95 when I was able to come into this league.
"But it's almost like you guys are shocked. Like this ain't what I do every day. Like this ain't what I was built for. It does come off kind of disrespectful at times. I put a lot of effort and work and time into this.
"I take this very seriously. So when you guys call me old, you're just fueling the fire. You have no idea what you're even doing when you all do that. I appreciate you all. Whoever's writing the 'old' comments and all that, keep doing it. I appreciate it. I don't read your column, but it gets back to me."
Now let's see if it keeps showing in round two.