|Tecnically speaking, Shaquille O'Neal was upset that referee David Guthrie gave him a T. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
He's not going to be the MVP. The Garden fans can chant, "M-V-P," when Kevin Garnett goes to the foul line from now till Memorial Day, but they might as well get it into their heads: That one's going to be a Kobe-LeBron knockdown-dragout.
Why don't we just call Kevin Garnett the MVA, as in Most Valuable Acquisition?
"The whole face of Celtics Nation turned around when the trade happened with this guy," declared Paul Pierce after last night's 117-97 dispatch of the Suns. "Everyone talks about the MVP and they talk about numbers, but this guy has changed the whole culture around here, and I think that says a lot for everything. The mentality, to a day-to-day aspect, everything is changed from a year ago."
The fact is the Celtics could increase their 2006-07 victory total by a record number, and it all begins with Kevin Garnett, who graciously made a case for his teammate as the MVP. Pierce had 27 points (closing the deal with 12 in the fourth quarter) as his own magnificent season rolls on, and Ray Allen had another solid evening (14 points and a game-high eight assists), and Rajon Rondo made a statement against two-time MVP Steve Nash, and Kendrick Perkins had a nice 13-10 evening, and those hustling young bigs put on another show (Leon Powe by drawing a shooting foul from his knees and Big Baby Davis by winning a couple of what Johnny Most would have called "muscle tussles" with the Great Shaq himself). It was a great team performance.
But this game was won in the third quarter, and the man who changed the game was Kevin Garnett.
It was 57-all at the break and the Suns had just hit the Celtics with a 14-for-17 second quarter that featured nine made jumpers by five people. And Amare Stoudemire was doing whatever he wanted.
Amare Stoudemire is a fairly amazing player. Just ask Sam Cassell, who in the course of a 15-year NBA career has seen a few players come and go. And Sam Cassell is here to tell you that Amare Stoudemire is something new and different. Really. Sam says he has never seen another young big offering up this particular package of size (6 feet 10 inches), quickness, explosiveness, outside touch, and take-it-to-the-hoop ambidexterity.
"No," Sam said. "N-o-o-o-o-o-o, no!"
One reason the lad went for a 22-point first half was the fact that Garnett spent so much of it as a spectator. Doc Rivers had to pull him after 5:21 when KG picked up his second personal, and Doc was not pleased. "There should be two fouls on Stoudemire," Doc said to referee Sean Corbin.
When the third quarter began, Garnett was back on the floor and he had a rather determined look in his eye. It was apparent that if Mr. Stoudemire had any ideas about matching that first-half point total, he'd have to answer to Garnett.
Kevin Garnett, age 31 with 70 zillion NBA miles on him, played the entire third quarter. Amare Stoudemire, age 25, played all but the final six seconds. Kevin Garnett had 8 points (all on jumpers), 2 assists, and a block. Amare Stoudemire had no points, missed both his shots, and committed four turnovers. The Celtics emerged in front by 11 (84-73) and they never let the Suns get a sniff in the fourth quarter.
It was a virtuoso performance, but Garnett deflected the credit.
"In the second half, they let us play a little bit more," he said. "I was able to deny him the ball a little bit and they went away from him a couple of times when I did that. And I made him play some defense, try to get some fouls on him, make him run a little bit. But it was team defense. I had a lot of help."
That makes it sound far too easy. Garnett was, in fact, isolated on this young terror most of the time. He made Stoudemire work. He made him uncomfortable. He forced him into help. Offensively, he made tough shots. The truth is the game ran through him at both ends of the floor, and so it went from a tie to plus-11. But since the Celtics had lost control of the game in the fourth quarter against both New Orleans and Philadelphia, they had to show us they hadn't forgotten how to finish with style.
"There was nothing to talk about," Garnett said. "Just build the lead so we can sit down."
"I thought Kevin was steady throughout the whole game," said Rivers. "The difference between tonight and the last time we played them was that we just made a concerted effort to pound the ball down low to Kevin. And whether they played zone or man, we just kept saying, 'Throw it down low, throw it down low . . . ' I thought that was very important before the game and it was the point of emphasis, offensively."
Kevin Garnett shot 12 for 19. He made jump hooks out of the low post, he made turnaround jumpers, he made face-up jumpers, and he made one shot I wouldn't even attempt to describe. He played that killer D on Stoudemire and he had six assists. It was a pretty good night's work, an MVA performance, for sure.
P.S. Amare Stoudemire had 10 points in the fourth quarter. Make sure you lock that barn door, kid.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.