By Baxter Holmes
HOUSTON — Kevin Garnett saluted the fans and tapped his heart.
The Boston Celtics forward doled out a few fist-bumps to teammates and foes. Then he took to the court, played six scoreless minutes, and took a seat. His 15th All-Star Game appearance amounted to a harmless cameo, just as he and coach Doc Rivers had hoped.
“Six minutes, yep, right where I wanted it to be,” Garnett said.
He missed his only two shots. He grabbed three rebounds. He had an assist. When the game quickly turned into a dunk contest, he deferred to the younger players, letting them run and gun.
When his time was up Sunday night, Garnett left the 62d All-Star Game at Toyota Center and walked toward the bench, put on a warm-up shirt and pants, and wrapped a towel around his neck.
He watched as his Eastern Conference team fell to their counterparts from the West, 143-138. He watched as Clippers guard Chris Paul earned MVP honors with 20 points and 15 assists, and as Oklahoma City swingman Kevin Durant scored 30, becoming the first player to score at least 30 in three straight All-Star Games.
“They respected each other, nobody got hurt, the fans had a great time,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached the West team. “That’s what it’s all about.”
As usual, it was only competitive near the end.
Paul hit two late 3-pointers and Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had two key blocks on Heat star LeBron James to help seal the West’s win.
In previous versions of this affair, Garnett was heavily used. In 2003, for instance, he played 41 minutes and scored 37 points. But the 36-year-old wasn’t going to get that much run a decade later, nothing near it.
Garnett could’ve used the rest of an entire weekend, but he came here, waded through promotional appearances, and then, finally, the game itself.
He played, but more as a figurehead than competitor. He all but sidestepped a contest that annually lacks hustle and defense, his calling cards. The Celtics begin their second half with nine of their first 11 games on the road, starting Tuesday in Denver, and Garnett knew it was it was more important for him to save his legs.
“Everything was cool, but in the back of my mind, I’m thinking we’ve got Denver Tuesday, Lakers Wednesday,” Garnett said. “[I’m] just thinking about the schedule and what it’s about to be this second half.”
Did he feel rested after this weekend?
“Absolutely not. Absolutely not,” he said. “I would love to say that, but absolutely not.”
But the weekend was also a good deal of fun for him.
“To be honest, what was on my mind was getting the proper rest and trying to enjoy myself, trying to make sure everybody that was with me enjoyed [themselves],” he said.
His young daughter Capri had never attended All-Star festivities before and was hounding her father about changing that. So, he brought her this weekend.
“For my kid to see that was cool,” Garnett said. “It was cool for me.”
Garnett started his 11th All-Star Game. He started alongside Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and James, clearly making him the East’s elder statesman.
In all his All-Star Game appearances — he’s tied for the second most in NBA history — Garnett attempted his fewest shots and played his fewest minutes Sunday.
Garnett said he told Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who was coaching the East, “It’s a young guy’s game, play me a couple minutes and then I was cool.”
During the game, Garnett sat leaning forward, his elbows on his knees, his chin resting in his hands. He cheered his teammates, some of whom are fierce rivals.
“We have the same jersey on,” Garnett said. “When you have opposing jerseys on, then that’s obvious, but right now, that’s what this weekend is. You come in, give your time, enjoy each other. There’s not too many times you’re going to be interacting like this throughout the year. It’s a time to let your hair down and relax.”
Now comes a trip to the Rocky Mountains. The Celtics practice Tuesday in Denver, gathering after a break that didn’t seem nearly long enough for them to recuperate.
Is Garnett looking forward to it?
“It’s good to see everybody; you look forward to that,” Garnett said. “Practice is work, but it’s good. You’re getting better.”
The Celtics, who are 28-24 and in seventh place in the East, hope to do the same.
Garnett had said last week that this All-Star appearance would “definitely” be his last. He clarified that comment by saying he just wasn’t sure if he’d be selected as an All-Star next year.
If it was his final time playing in a game where he’s practically a fixture, Garnett signed off with his eyes on the rest of the season, his 18th in the NBA.