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This setback sickens flu-ridden Garnett

By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / February 6, 2009
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With his sweat suit still on and a towel wrapped tightly around his neck, flu-ridden Kevin Garnett simply stated, "I'm here," with regard to how he was feeling.

Garnett had missed the last two games, not playing since last Friday against the Pistons. The timing couldn't have been worse, as the Celtics were playing their most anticipated home game of the season last night against the rival Lakers, who were visiting the Garden for the first time since being beaten in the 2008 Finals.

Garnett had 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 turnovers and watched the final 9 minutes 22 seconds of Boston's 110-109 overtime loss after fouling out for just the second time this season.

"Very tough to watch the team," Garnett said. "Probably more than anything, it's frustrating. I never like to miss games. I've always said if I can walk, I can play. It tells you what kind of days I had.

"We're not in here to talk about me. We're here to talk about how we let a good opportunity slip."

Garnett participated in yesterday morning's shootaround in Waltham and was back in the starting lineup last night. With the Celtics up, 52-51, at halftime, Garnett appeared to be fine, with 10 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 foul in 18 minutes.

"Pretty rough couple of days for me," Garnett said. "I got in and did a little cardio and really pushed myself to a limit and went to a point where I felt comfortable. Tonight, I didn't even think about it. [Coach] Doc [Rivers] told me to verbally comment or let him know, to communicate to him how I felt. I felt pretty strong. My communication with my teammates was pretty strong. I had energy."

Garnett, however, picked up three fouls in the third to give him four with 2:14 remaining in the quarter and Boston up, 74-71. With the Celtics ahead, 83-81, with 9:49 left in the fourth, Rivers put Garnett back in the game. But with 4:22 remaining, Pau Gasol appeared to slap Garnett's wrist, causing him to lose the ball. While trying to regain possession against Derek Fisher, Garnett was hit with his sixth personal and exited with Boston up, 95-93.

"Assessing the game these days, I don't know what a foul is," Garnett said. "What's an All-Star? What's a bad call or good call. I guess you go out there and just play. At times you tend to put refs in situations to make calls, and when they're not called I guess you got to play through it. The Lakers won the game."

The 14-year veteran encouraged his teammates on the floor before departing, and yelled instructions from the bench the rest of the way. Without Garnett, the Celtics turned to Glen Davis, who is generously listed as 6 feet 9 inches. Davis, however, missed 7 of 8 shots, including a crucial contested jumper in OT. The Lakers outscored the Celtics, 17-14, after Garnett fouled out.

"[Garnett fouling out is] a critical factor," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "I didn't think he was quite ready to play. He didn't look up to par. But even with him at 90 percent, he is still a guy who can make shots and do a lot of things defensively."

With Garnett, last season's Defensive Player of the Year, not at full strength and then out of the game entirely, the Lakers' Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom had their way in the post. Gasol, who was outplayed by Garnett in the Finals, had 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting and seven offensive rebounds (14 total), while Odom had 20 points.

Rivers mentioned that not having Garnett's length on the floor affected his team defensively. Lakers star Kobe Bryant added that Garnett's absence also hurt the Celtics offensively.

"I got aggressive [after Garnett fouled out]," said Odom. "I knew it was going to be my chance to go. KG is one of the best players that I've ever had to go against. I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if I didn't go."

Bryant, who scored a game-high 26 points, said, "They didn't have [Garnett] at the top of the floor [offensively] to stretch the defense and knock down a shot. Going back to the other end, obviously not having his presence helped us a lot."

The Lakers have now won both regular-season meetings against the Celtics, and the mention of that brought some fire from Garnett. The only way for payback now is if the teams against meet in the Finals.

When asked if he welcomed that possibility, Garnett hit the table at which he was sitting with his first a couple of times and said, "Hell, yeah. We're the champs, man."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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