|Kevin Garnett limped off the court Thursday with a strained knee; the earliest he will return is next Friday vs. Indiana. (George Frey for the Globe)|
Garnett out 2-3 weeks
Knee injury needs 'rest and ice'
PHOENIX - The Celtics are being cautious in treating Kevin Garnett's right knee injury, sending him back to Boston yesterday and shutting him down for the remainder of their road trip and a little bit longer. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said late last night that Garnett has a posterior muscle strain and will be out 2-3 weeks.
"Rest and ice for KG," Ainge said via text message.
The Celtics went 7-2 when Garnett missed nine straight games Jan. 27-Feb. 13 last season with a strained abdomen.
Based on the timetable, Garnett may not be able to play in Eastern Conference showdowns against Cleveland (March 6) or Orlando (March 8).
Garnett was injured Thursday as he went to catch a lob from Paul Pierce late in the first half of a 90-85 loss to the Utah Jazz. Garnett immediately went to the locker room, then briefly returned for halftime warm-ups, but was held out of the second half.
Though Garnett expressed a desire to continue playing, coach Doc Rivers ruled against him. Rivers, trainer Ed Lacerte, and Ainge discussed several options, then decided to err on the side of caution.
Earlier yesterday, Ainge said the only way to eliminate the temptation for Garnett to return to action prematurely would be to send him home.
"We're just being cautious," Ainge said. "We think he's OK. It's been bothering him for a little bit and we just didn't want him to play [Thursday] night. We want to make sure he's OK and, with Kevin, you've got to get him out of town."
The Celtics face the Suns tomorrow, visit Denver Monday, and the Los Angeles Clippers Wednesday. Without Garnett and Tony Allen (thumb surgery), the Celtics have only 11 healthy players. Brian Scalabrine likely will start in Garnett's absence.
Ainge said he is not considering signing anyone to a 10-day contract as a stopgap replacement for Garnett, nor is he accelerating plans to add free agents. The Celtics have two roster spots open after dealing guard Sam Cassell and center Patrick O'Bryant before Thursday's trade deadline.
"This is not anything we've got to react to," Ainge said. "We'll stick to the same game plan as far as adding people to our roster. We're not changing anything."
The Celtics might have interest in Oklahoma City forward Joe Smith or suspended Knicks guard Stephon Marbury, both of whom may get bought out of their contracts. Seven-foot forward-center Mikki Moore, who has attracted attention from several teams (including the Celtics), was waived by the Kings.
After Thursday's game, Rivers said, "[Garnett] wanted to run and I just said no. We have a long season and I'm not taking a risk putting him on the floor.
"We would have loved to have him, obviously. It probably would have made a difference. Unless he's close to 100 percent, I'd rather have him healthy for the playoffs."
Pierce agreed. "Hopefully, Kevin will get healthy as soon as possible," he said. "We've been injured a lot this season but the most important thing is to just get healthy going into the playoffs. You want him to take his time and not try to kill himself in the regular season.
"If we don't have home-court advantage, so be it, we have to find a way to get it done."
The Celtics struggled down the stretch against the Jazz without Garnett, squandering a 76-70 lead.
The Jazz outscored the Celtics, 20-9, over the final 6:51. Pierce converted the Celtics' only field goal of the final four minutes, a drive with 16 seconds remaining, but misfired on three shots with the score tied, 83-83. The Celtics committed 30 fouls (the Jazz had five fouls in the first half, 13 in the second) and had 19 turnovers.
"I wouldn't worry about our offense," Rivers said. "I think our defense was great. It really came down to turnovers and missed free throws."
The Celtics (44-12) were playing for the first time since Feb. 12.
"We got off to a great start but we didn't close out the second quarter," guard Rajon Rondo said.
Scalabrine replaced Garnett at the start of the second half in his first appearance since sustaining a concussion Jan. 25. Scalabrine seemed in tune offensively but fouled out in less than a quarter of playing time.
"It didn't have anything to do with the concussion," Scalabrine said. "It's the timing, it's the little things, that you've got to be sharp at."