When Kevin Garnett went down with a right knee injury in Utah last February, Boston held its breath and seemingly refused to believe that this man was unable to make a triumphant return to the court. Now, in the wake of offseason surgery, when he plays, Boston watches hungrily. And when he speaks, Boston listens intently.
While KG has a reputation for being upfront with the media, it was inevitable that when he pronounced himself healthy on Media Day and repeated the pronouncement throughout training camp, his statements were taken with a grain of salt. Because, despite this being KG, actions always speak louder than words, no matter how loud KG can speak them. We would have to see this knee back in action for ourselves.
And when he took the court for the first preseason game against the Houston Rockets back on October 7, I remember feeling a stressful jumble of emotions. Excitement and confidence were deadlocked with nervousness and anxiousness in the pits of my stomach. I was worried that I was now watching a frail individual. I was legitimately freaked out throughout that game that at any point KG would make a bad cut or come down wrong and that would be the end of it.
But today? How do I feel five games and more than a full week later? Let's just say excitement and confidence won the battle and the war. While many athletes are quick to talk the talk (see Quentin Richardson), they frequently fail to walk the walk. However, it now seems clear that Kevin Garnett is not one of these athletes. He talked the talk on Media Day, and has been walking the walk throughout this entire preseason.It seems like each and every game Kevin Garnett gets better. One aspect of his game that had been missing the game before suddenly takes shape and he's quick to use it again the next night out. Above all, he's been consistent in the midst of reconnecting all of the facets of his game that made him a dominant player before the first major injury of his career.
First and foremost, the 15-foot jump shot which has served as his offensive trademark was there from game one. He buried his first two mid-range jumpers against Houston, immediately putting any qualms to rest. Let it be known that that game is also the only game he's played this preseason in which he has shot less than 50 percent from the field. He's improved every game and once it was clear that the jumper hadn't gone anywhere, he then parked himself down low, proved he could still create offensive art in the paint and also started gobbling up the rebounds.
After recording a very promising five boards against Houston, like the points and the field goal percentage, his rebounding numbers steadily increased, as he hauled in eight boards against the Knicks last Friday and kept to form with six in his following two games against the Nets and Raptors. It was comforting and steadying not seeing any signs of hesitation from KG when it came time to box out an opponent and leap for the ball.
Kevin Garnett is arguably defined best by the intensity he plays with night in and night out. It didn't take long for someone to apparently tick the Big Ticket off, as Yi Jianlian of the New Jersey Nets served as the very first player to be verbally torn apart by KG mid-game. Well, in retrospect, I suppose it's fair to say Garnett tore apart Yi's defense as well, seeing as he posted 12 points on 6-8 shooting in that game.
Speaking of defense, Garnett's been sliding, cutting, talking and barking on the defensive end. The steals are there, the help defense is there and the blocked shots are coming back. The barking is key. It means he's not hampered by anything. He's unrestricted in his movements on the opposite side of the ball.
It's a bonafide fact that when Kevin Garnett is animated, he's feeling good. The more he yells and screams and stares opponents down and repeatedly slams the ball into his forehead, the better he feels. It was an important step, getting that first verbal tongue lashing out of the way. And his feeling better is compounded by the fact that when he resides to the bench for the remainder of the game, he's still up on his feet cheering relentlessly for his teammates, imploring them to work harder, while chastising any official who dare try and belittle another Celtic with a petty call. He's not stuck on the bench dealing with some form of treatment or wallowing in worry that he's not up to par. Clearly, he's feeling good so far.
Then came the collective "hold your breath" moments as KG was thrown to the ground, smacked in the face and kicked in the calf. But he stood back up after all of those moments and kept playing. So we exhaled. In some ways, getting the first major hits out of the way was a good thing. KG can clearly still absorb contact and get back up.
But through all of this, what still seemed to be missing? Legitimate explosion. It seemed at times against the Rockets and the New York Knicks, lob passes were tossed up but KG seemed hesitant to sky up and throw them down. He looked limited. But then, this little tidbit popped up on the Globe's Celtics blog page on Monday:
"He took a lob and dunked it -- it was an amazing dunk," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Garnett. "Everybody said, 'we haven't seen that.' "
Sure, it was great to hear he was doing it in practice, but what about during a game? Well, KG's not one to keep us waiting long. Against the Raptors on Wednesday, in the midst of a 16-point, six -rebound and two-block performance, Garnett took not one, but two lob passes from Rajon Rondo and comfortably laid them in. The first came in the opening period, as KG twirled off his defender back door, caught Rondo's lob pass and slammed it home. Later in the third quarter, the pair hooked up again as Garnett outran Toronto's defense and caught Rondo's feed from just outside the three point arc for the alley-oop layup.
These were huge steps for Garnett, especially considering there were no side effects afterward. As thrilled as we all were, imagine how Garnett must have felt. For a player who defines himself through his aggressive play, these two lobs had to have served as tell-tale signs that the knee is capable of handling anything basketball wise. For a player like Garnett, confidence is everything. And he must now have confidence that his game won't be hindered or fully dictated by the knee.
Furthermore, the speed appears to be rounding back into full form. Against Toronto on Sunday, Garnett was exploding from one end of the court to the other and managed to create offense because of it. With 4:27 left in the first quarter, a sprinting KG sliced down the middle, took a feed from Rondo, leaped, threw it down and was fouled by Amir Johnson in the process. Garnett must have liked it as he gave himself an appreciative yell and pound to the chest. Then, with 3:55 left in the second frame, Garnett broke out on the defensive end and beat everyone to the other side of the court, where he was fouled mid stride, but proceeded to knock down both free throw attempts he received. His final numbers from Sunday: 28 minutes, 8-14 shooting, 5-5 on free throws, 21 points, four rebounds.
I'm not a doctor, so I'm not qualified whatsoever to say Kevin Garnett and his knee are 100 percent again, but as a legitimate fan who at first watched Garnett this month with uncertainty and apprehension, my thoughts no longer dwindle on the knee in the slightest. For all intents and purposes, Kevin Garnett appears to be Kevin Garnett again. He has so far used this preseason as a test to prove to himself and to everyone else that he's in charge of his knee - not the other way around. In my grade book, he's passing with flying colors.