Tonight's TD Garden showdown between the Celtics and the publicized-to-death Los Angeles Lakers already had enough storylines to begin with.
You had the Celtics, rattling off win after win without Rajon Rondo. The Lakers, struggling to stay in the playoff picture without Pau Gasol, desperately begging Dwight Howard to play through pain. The C's had won five games in a row; the Lakers, six out of seven.
Turns out the outcome was never in question, as Boston built a massive lead in the second quarter and never looked back, amassing a lead as big as 32 before ultimately waltzing off with a 116-95 final.
But enough about the outcome of the game itself. Tonight was about one guy -- ironically, the ultimate team guy, the one guy who never makes it about himself alone.
Here's to Kevin Garnett, whose second-quarter turnaround jumper over the Lakers' Earl Clark gave him 25,000 points in his NBA career. Here's to history.
"I hadn't even noticed," Garnett said afterward. "I think someone said it to me in passing last night, and it kind of went in one ear and out the other."
Typical player cliche, right? And with 99 percent of NBA personnel, you'd call B.S. Of course he noticed. It's only human nature. Paul Pierce said two seasons ago when he eclipsed 20,000 that every player pays attention to their numbers -- they always know when they're one assist or one rebound away from a triple-double, he said. Ray Allen expressed similar sentiments when he broke Reggie Miller's 3-point record in 2011. Selflessness is the ideal, but deep down, every player is cognizant of his own numbers.
With Garnett? He might genuinely be disinterested. But for a milestone like 25K -- one that only 15 other players in league history have reached, including only one active (none other than Kobe Bryant) -- he was at least able to fake it a little.
"To all the coaches and ex-players and current players and systems and organizations that I've played for, I'm more than honored," Garnett said. "Without the systems and coaches and players that put you in position to score the basketball, none of this would have been possible. I try to keep my body up and the pieces together, but so, so many components go into these individual awards, so I just want to say that I'm more than honored."
No one really noticed Garnett's milestone shot when it happened. It was in the flow of the game -- he made the bucket in a nice fluid motion off an assist from Leandro Barbosa, then quickly and quietly made his way down the floor to rebound a Jodie Meeks miss on the other end. For a historic moment, it sure was unheralded.
It wasn't until a timeout three minutes later that the Celtics' P.A. announcer finally acknowledged Garnett's feat, giving his teammates and fans a chance to honor him.
"Kevin has so many accomplishments in this league," said Paul Pierce, who could be seen congratulating Garnett in the team huddle during the timeout. "He's one of the greatest players of all time. Whether it's his scoring, his steals, his rebounds, he's just a remarkable player. I'm happy I've had an opportunity to spend some time with him, on and off the court, share some of these moments with him.
"He's a special player. Not everybody gets a chance to play with a once-in-a-generation player, just to be in the locker room with him, talking, seeing his work each and every day, seeing how he's gotten to this point. It's been a wonderful ride."
What's truly remarkable is that for most of his career, KG has been known mostly for his defense, not for his O. And yet still, he's on an exclusive list to which many, many great players would kill for admission. Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Clyde Drexler are among the Hall of Fame guys who never reached 25K. And yet Garnett, the defensive stalwart of this era in Boston, did offensively what none of them could.
"He's a great offensive player," coach Doc Rivers said. "But he's so good defensively that you rarely hear about Kevin being a great offensive player. That just tells you how good he is overall. He's a great passer, he's a great rebounder, he's a great offensive player. I don't know what else there is."
"Kevin was a pretty spectacular offensive player for a large part of his career," said the Lakers' Steve Nash. "He's a good defender, obviously, and especially the last few years, he's really prided himself on that. But he was a tremendous offensive player, and he still can score."
With this individual accolade behind him, though, Garnett can now turn his attention back to his team. The Celtics are rolling now, with six consecutive wins sans Rondo, and they're looking to reassert their authority as a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference. With the trade deadline two weeks away, there's no better time for a revival.
"I don't know what Danny [Ainge] and upper management have up their sleeves as far as making this team better," Garnett said. "But we as players can only control us. Right now, we're in a rhythm. We're moving the ball, like I've said. I hate to sound like a broken record, but we are. We're continuing to consolidate the ball, everybody touching the ball, playing with a lot of confidence, and playing together on both ends. That's important right now."
KG hates to admit it, but his individual accolades are important too. This night belongs to him.