Even in this position, overmatched and outclassed and pretty much utterly humiliated after three not-even-close losses against the asecendent New York Knicks, Kevin Garnett is still good or an inspirational quote or two. If you've been watching The Big Ticket throughout his six years here, you've come to expect some quality quipping from the man. It's what he does.
Tonight was no different.
"I'm going to play 'til it's over," Garnett said tonight, looking ahead to a Game 4 showdown with the Knicks on Sunday that may very well be his season finale. "I'm not easily broken. That's always been my mentality, and it probably always will be. I've been to the bottom before. I know what it is. I'm a fighter at the end of the day."
It's true -- Garnett has been to the bottom before, or at least mighty close to it. No doubt, he still remembers the spring of 2007, when his Minnesota Timberwolves closed out the season with seven straight losses and finished 32-50, 13th place in the Western Conference, hopelessly removed from contention. At that moment, he was beaten down and irrelevant, wondering if his career was going to waste in the Twin Cities.
The Wolves traded him to Boston that summer, he won a championship right away, and he's since rattled off five more playoff seasons with a Celtic nucleus of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Doc Rivers. No matter what happens from here on out, he's accomplished a lot in Boston, and no one can take that away from him.
So Garnett has some perspective when he looks back on the Celtics' dismal performance this spring. But let's be honest: This still hurts.
The Celtics got completely wiped out by the Knicks in Game 3 tonight, falling behind early thanks to yet another absolutely dreadful offensive half (31 points in quarters one and two). They lost by a 90-76 final that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated, a game that had most of the TD Garden faithful walking out midway through the fourth quarter.
The Knicks are outplaying Boston in every aspect of the game. For Garnett, who's always been prideful, that's a difficult pill to swallow.
"When a team's making shots and executing and playing very well, that can kill your spirit," he admitted. "If you gaven't been here and you haven't been experienced playoff play and learned to understand it, those are times you have to band together, you have to take some punches. Tonight we took some, but we didn't really give any back. When we messed up, they made us pay for it. Good teams are going to do that."
The Knicks have certainly earned the Celtics' respect in these last three games. But they've done more than that -- they've utterly shocked the C's. Floored them. The Celtics are a confident group, and they came into this series expecting a competitive grudge match with their New York rivals, No. 7 seed be damned. The idea of being swept never crossed their minds.
But the Knicks, led by 96 points from Carmelo Anthony and an incredibly stifling defense, have exposed Boston in every conceivable way. Since January 7, the infamous night that Garnett's Celtics beat Anthony's Knicks and KG invoked breakfast cereals in similes, New York has won six straight meetings with Boston by a combined 74 points.
"I'm definitely surprised," Paul Pierce said. "I thought we were a team that matched up well with the Knicks. I thought we played them pretty well throughout the season, but we lost a couple close ones. I didn't expect us to come in like this. I thought this would probably be a long series, given the way we matched up. I really am surprised that we're down 0-3 right now."
The Celtics can say whatever they want. They can make excuses about officials, they can point out they're missing Rajon Rondo, they can say it's a fluky matter of shots rimming in and out. They can use any spin they choose. But the bottom line is they're down 3-0, and they'd have to make NBA history to survive from here to round two.
"When you're down 3-0, it's a simple message: You've got to win the next one," Doc Rivers said. "It's that simple. That's where it starts."
Rivers admits that his team lost a little bit of its competitive spirit late in this game. They were making countless mistakes, and the Knicks were capitalizing on every one of them without fail, and you could see it in the Celtics' body language that they lacked the fortitude to mount a comeback.
They'll sleep that sentiment off, at least partially. But they'll be back in this building Sunday morning, and it remains to be seen whether they'll be able to muster the confidence to win one game, let alone four.
We've never seen the Celtics quite like this. They appear to be in way over their heads.
At this point, there's absolutely zero reason to believe the Celtics can overcome the deficit facing them. But for what it's worth, they're going to try.
"That's what it is," Garnett said. "It's all out. Nothing left but to leave it out there on the floor. That's where we're at."
That attitude is pretty much all they have left.