Kevin Garnett is a prideful man; as prideful as men come. He's also a driven man; as driven as men come.
He's the type of player who gets too excited to sleep the night before a preseason game against the Sacramento Kings. He's the type of person I wouldn't let in the same room as my pitbull, if I had one. I'd be too worried about the pitbull.
Garnett needs no extra motivation, but he has some tonight. And his name is Amare Stoudemire.
Stoudemire has scored 30+ points in eight straight games, and if the season ended today, he would likely be the NBA MVP. (Jimmy Toscano)
"Well I think Stoudemire, even if he didn't have the 30-point games, [Garnett] gets up for him anyways," Rivers said. "They get up for each other. And the fact they're playing well, the fact they're in our division and all that stuff - I'm sure Kevin will have a lot of reading material over the next two days, and so it will be good for him."
Sadly, Garnett won't start the game on Stoudemire. The Knicks' prized free-agent acquisition plays center now, in Mike D'Antoni's small-ball lineup, and so Semih Erden or Shaquille O'Neal (whichever one starts) will begin the game defending the MVP candidate. (UPDATE: Shaq will miss tonight's game, according to the Globe's Gary Washburn.)
But for those of you looking for a matchup between KG and S.T.A.T., you'll get it at some point. When Glen Davis plays alongside Garnett, says Rivers, "that will be an effective lineup for us." In other words, bet your last dollar Garnett will try his turn on Stoudemire.
You can also bet Garnett will be fired up. And when I say "fired up," I mean he'll probably play like a rabid dog who just downed eleven Five-Hour Energies at once. Garnett's spiteful, vengeful ways have returned full force this season. If you have wronged him, or looked at him strangely, or even breathed a little oddly in his vicinity, Garnett remembers it. He has already torn through Joakim Noah and Andray Blatche, two players who learned the tough way to keep their mouths shut. But those players were easy to discard. Garnett is Garnett, and those players, well, they aren't.
Stoudemire isn't Garnett, either, but he's a level (or two, or three) beyond the other players Garnett has slapped around so easily. Stoudemire is Garnett's best test yet, and playing as well as anybody in The League. He is scoring as well as any Knick, ever. If you don't think that fuels Garnett, well, you don't know much about Kevin Garnett.
To say Garnett is a prideful basketball player would be like saying Michaelangelo was once a talented artist. It would be quite an understatement.
In a legendary interview with John Thompson, in 2005, Garnett described his internal drive (that sounds like a computer term) far better than I ever could. Garnett was crying when discussing his team's recent losing skid, and Thompson wondered why.
"I give a lot, man," Garnett told Thompson. "I give two cents. It ain't because I got to. It's in me. I came out the womb, man, this is how I am. I'm built like this."
Garnett added, "If we were here playing dominoes, playing cards, running back and forth, and you kept beating me... whatever we were doing, I hate to lose. I hate to lose. I don't care what it is. That's my biggest problem, is that I can't accept losing. And I won't accept losing. I won't ever accept losing. Ever. Noone will ever be able to call me a loser to my face, and stand there."
Last year, people didn't call Garnett a loser, but they did call him washed up. They called him a shell of his former self, and they called him too old, and they called him too injured, and they doubted him. Garnett wasn't the same, and it was mental as much as physical. He didn't have the same edge -- he couldn't have the same edge -- because you can't clap in somebody's face if he's just going to drive right by you. You can't get down on all fours if your opponent is going to score on you. You can't beat your chest, cuss non-stop and verbally berate your opponent all game, if you don't have the physical ability to stop him.
It's quite obviously a different Kevin Garnett now. The confidence is back, and so are the antics, and so is the "I'm better than you and I'm going to prove it tonight" mentality.
"This isn't about Kevin vs. Amar'e. It's about Celtics vs. Knicks," Shaq told Jimmy Toscano yesterday.
But for Garnett, it's also about pride.
For Garnett, it's always about pride.