CHICAGO — Typically Kevin Garnett’s voice rises above the buzz of the masses. Before Game 3 against the Bulls, it caused a silent stir in the Boston Celtics’ locker room.
As players quietly, intently listened to Garnett’s voice message booming from a bluetooth speaker connected to athletic trainer Ed Lacerte’s phone, they began to absorb the airborne energy.
“Everybody knows when KG talks, his voice is very demanding and you just listen,” Marcus Smart said at practice Saturday.
KG is a vector for the disease of winning. His presence, even intangibly, transforms the mindset of its hosts.
“The fact when he said, ‘I’m a Celtic for life. That’s what we do. We play, we gotta have dogs and we play like does and that’s what Celtics is about,’ That’s big for us and that’s what we needed to hear,” Marcus Smart said at practice Saturday when asked what resonated in Garnett’s speech.
The Pitbulls known as Smart, Bradley and Crowder pounced on the Bulls like a fresh piece of beef, blitzing them early in Game 3 and winning the first quarter 33-15. Although the Bulls made a roaring comeback in the second quarter, the Celtics’ bark turned back into a bite after the halftime break, pushing Chicago out of the way int he third quarter.
They had kept Jimmy Butler trapped in a glass case of emotion until his mandatory late third quarter scoring explosion, which seems to be more of an inevitability than a defensive failure at this point. Butler was just 1-for-12 before his game 6-point run in the final two minutes of the third period.
But the message and passion from Garnett continued to resonate, as the Celtics’ execution held strong and role players like Gerald Green and Terry Rozier imposed their games. They felt the freedom and opportunity afforded by KG’s passion and Stevens’ confidence, grabbing Game 3 by the horns.
The message from Garnett was to take the emotion of Isaiah’s tragedy and use it as fuel to the Celtics’ fire. It was Thomas himself who played the message for the entire team.
“KG said some inspirational words and it reminded us that Celtics, we’re always supposed to be the hardest working team every single night,” Avery Bradley told ESPN in his post-game interview Friday. “We’re supposed to use Isaiah’s family — use that as inspiration to come out hard for him and his family.”
Bradley said Garnett presented the team with two options: Fight or go home.
“He said, ‘You can either play two ways: You can make excuses and say it’s emotional. Oh let’s give up this year and worry about next year. Or you can fight.’ Fight for his family and that’s what he did.”
It was a crucial message for Green and Rozier, who embodied its profound impact more than anyone.
“I kind of like being geeked up,” Green said Saturday. “I think that’s the type of personality I have anyway. I’m always animated, I’m always kind of crunk. So I have to be that energy. I don’t want to be less geeked than I was.”
For Rozier, it was hearing the ominous voice of a fabled deity of Celtics lore.
"Outrageous hearing from a legend who played for this organization. He's been through it all. Got to the Finals, won the Finals. Just to hear him was inspirational. Especially going into a game like this.”
Brad Stevens isn’t one to get hyped up very often, but he got a sneak preview of the Garnett speech the day before his players heard it. While the players had their locker room experience on their own, Stevens could see the resulting impact on the face of his team as they began the game.
“Everybody looks up to him and he had a great impact and continues to have a great impact as a former Celtic.”
Stevens admitted it was a different speech than his typical pre-game declarations. When Smart was asked if it reminded him of the speech in the movie Rudy, he chuckled and said, “Somewhat.”
It may have been just as inspirational, but with a few more F-, S- and various other bombs. While the full speech itself remains shrouded in mystery, it was the detonator for the Celtics’ explosive momentum swing in this series. Now they have to keep fighting to survive.