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Garnett wins NBA defensive player award

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / April 22, 2008

WALTHAM — From the time the Celtics were founded in 1946 until this season began, every major NBA award but one had been won, at one time of another, by a member of the organization.

Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Dave Cowens, and Larry Bird all have been named MVP. There have been Coaches of the Year, Rookies of the Year, and Sixth Men of the Year.

The only major award a Celtic had not claimed was Defensive Player of the Year — until Kevin Garnett made franchise history by winning it today.

‘‘Dealing with so much history already with this organization, obviously it’s a big achievement,’’ said Garnett. ‘‘Obviously, it’s an individual award. But I won’t take this credit. It’s for the team.

‘‘This is a team effort, man. It’s an individual award, but it wouldn’t mean anything without the team and the teammates that I have and the coaching staff. I have to give credit where credit is due.’’

Garnett won the award — which was first given in 1983 — for the first time in his career, earning 493 points and getting 90 of 124 first-place votes. Denver’s Marcus Camby, who won the award last season, finished a distant second with 178 points, and Houston’s Shane Battier was third with 175 points.

Garnett, a 13-year veteran, averaged a team-best 7.3 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and 1.4 steals, describing this as the best defensive season of his career. The Celtics were second in the league in team defense, allowing 90.3 points per game, after allowing 99.2 a season ago.

After yesterday’s practice, Garnett thanked his teammates, coaches, and the organization at center court.

‘‘Things don’t hit you until later on,’’ Garnett said. ‘‘I’m pretty sure as I’m driving home, when I really sit back or when I’m done playing basketball, it will hit me.’’

Said coach Doc Rivers, ‘‘I really believe that the only way you can be a defensive award winner is to have great team defense to allow that one individual to express himself even more. Kevin really understands that. There is no other guy, to me, really, that deserves it more.’’

Camby, the former University of Massachusetts star, expressed his congratulations to Garnett to reporters in Denver today.

‘‘I’m surprised he hasn’t won it before in his career,’’ Camby said. ‘‘What he’s doing in Boston is great. I know a lot of credit should go to [Celtics assistant] Tom Thibodeau. He’s an assistant coach I played for in New York, and I know what he meant to that ball club, especially on the defensive end.

‘‘If I was going to lose it to anyone, I’d rather it be KG, even though I think my defensive numbers this year were a whole lot better than last year when I won the award — 4 blocks and 13 rebounds, I’ll take that.’’

Teammates Kendrick Perkins and Paul Pierce both said they were surprised the first-year Celtic hadn’t won the award before, and gave their thoughts on why he is so strong defensively.

‘‘He’s 7-1, but he likes to say he’s 6-11,’’ Perkins said. ‘‘He is very long, athletic. He moves his feet well. You never know how valuable he is until you play with him. He controls the whole court. He’s the only player besides Kobe Bryant that I’ve seen control the whole court.’’

Said Pierce, ‘‘He’s able to guard two, three, four positions on the court from the way he talks on defense, to the way he moves. He controls the paint. Blocks shots. He does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Talking. His defense on the pick-and-roll is tremendous.

‘‘He takes teams out of their offense. There are a number of things he is able to do to disrupt a team night in and night out.’’

Russell is widely considered the greatest defender in Celtics history, perhaps league history, and Garnett showed him respect.

‘‘When you think of Bill Russell, the one thing you think about is defense,’’ Garnett said. ‘‘I told him when I met him that I thank him for setting the tone, for setting the pathway for guys such as myself to be a big man and really exemplify excellence not only on the offensive end but exemplify it from a defensive standpoint. I tried to follow that lead the best I could through effort and hard work.’’

With the defensive award in hand, the MVP candidate is focused on getting the highest team award next.

‘‘At the end of the day, when I get back in mode, I’m thinking about that one goal, and that’s that championship, the banners,’’ he said, ‘‘because to me that exemplifies excellence and teamwork.’’

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