THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Garnett is on a role

No longer the focus, he still plays important part

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / May 10, 2010

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Along with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, he’s still a part of the Celtics’ Big Three, but Kevin Garnett’s role is different for the team these days.

Oh, Garnett still has game, as he showed in yesterday’s 97-87 win over the Cavaliers, tying the Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece.

He scored 18 points, pulled down six rebounds, and was a defensive presence at key moments when his team needed a boost. But Garnett was not the main story for the Celtics. At least not in the box score.

And perhaps not even on the court. Garnett talks and counsels and encourages and does all sorts of things 15-year veterans are supposed to do in the playoffs, especially at crunch time in a series.

Such was the case yesterday, as the Celtics desperately needed a win before the series heads back to Cleveland.

“We viewed this like it was Game 7,’’ said Garnett as he looked over a box score that showed the remarkable line of point guard Rajon Rondo (29 points, 18 rebounds, 13 assists). “In Game 3 [a 124-95 Cleveland win] we were complacent, we sat back and waited for them to throw punches. This time we punched first. We were firm and we were aggressive.’’

Which was what Garnett was in his 33 minutes 23 seconds of playing time. He was the Celtics’ primary presence in the paint, making 6 of his 11 shots. He pulled down rebounds, he bothered Cavaliers star LeBron James. And as the Celtics picked up fouls and coach Doc Rivers had to mix and match combinations, it was Garnett who provided guidance on the court.

It worked. The Celtics outscored the Cavaliers, 13-0, in second-chance points. They outscored the Cavaliers, 50-40, in the paint and 23-7, in fast-break points.

The Celtics also got a strong performance from Tony Allen (15 points), and even Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis, in spurts, gave the Celtics the boosts they needed to hold off a comeback in which the Cavaliers whittled a double-digit deficit to 2 by the end of the third quarter. Boston reestablished control in the first few minutes of the fourth.

“The bench has been the key for when we win,’’ said Garnett. “I think T.A. is playing at a high level, so is Glen. I told Rasheed that after Game 1 we are going to need him, and we are going to need him effectively. I think just his energy [helps] not only when he’s not scoring, but doing small things like Paul is doing and knowing it is going to be a valid effort from the team, not just individuals, to beat this team.’’

Garnett was asked if he felt cheated out of any rebounds because Rondo was grabbing every loose ball in sight. “We try to tell him to get out of there, but when he’s getting 18, what can you say,’’ said Garnett with a smile.

Garnett is no longer the force he was when he first came to the Celtics, and spearheaded the franchise’s 17th NBA title. He’ll be 34 May 19, and he has dealt with a series of injuries that makes him filling the starring role more of an aberration than an expectation.

The Celtics also know they cannot match Cleveland’s star power when James takes over a game, as he did Friday night.

“We told them going into Game 1, individually Cleveland is pretty good,’’ said Rivers. “We’re not going to win that match. But collectively as a team, we have a shot. We have a chance. And we have to stay that way. And that’s the way we have to think.’’

Garnett feels the same way, even more so when Rondo turns in a performance like yesterday’s triple-double.

“He was just controlling the game,’’ said Garnett. “When he’s playing like that, we’re hard to beat.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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