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Garnett stands tall after sitting

He made punching ticket much easier

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 14, 2010

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A year ago, Kevin Garnett was watching the Celtics falter against the Orlando Magic in second round of the playoffs. It has taken nearly a year for Garnett to fully recover from the knee problems that kept him out late last season and into the playoffs, but he is back to normal.

The best evidence was not shown by numbers — though Garnett had 22 points and 12 rebounds in the clinching 94-85 victory over Cleveland last night — but because Garnett was jumping and producing near the end of the game, as fresh as when he started a 37-minute stint.

The Celtics knew they had this one after Garnett dunked for an 88-74 advantage with 5:53 remaining, the celebration starting as Cleveland called a timeout. Garnett started the sequence, taking possession as Mo Williams lost his dribble, then going behind his back to start the transition.

But the Celtics had to play this one out, and the Cavaliers were within 92-85 with 2:07 to go. Then came a 40-second possession, capped by a Garnett turnaround jump hook. Before that possession, only one Celtic — Kendrick Perkins — had been able to grab an offensive rebound. But after Paul Pierce’s drive was blocked, there was Garnett to follow. And miss with a hook shot. And to follow again, this time going to Rajon Rondo, the Celtics calling a timeout with 1:36 left. The Celtics then went to Garnett to clinch the win, the only Celtic field goal of the final 4:37.

“Over the course of the season I’ve been fortunate to be healthy and can honestly say I’ve gotten stronger,’’ Garnett said. “And the playoffs come around, it’s time to step it up another notch, and that’s all I’ve been trying to do, nothing more, nothing less than that, it’s no secret. I take care of my body, I’m a workaholic when it comes to trying to better myself and nothing’s changed, so it’s paying off.’’

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said the target for Garnett was 20 field goal attempts, and he came up one short on 11-for-19 shooting.

The Garnett dunk was an exclamation point of a 10-point run, but Garnett produced most of his offense from outside, twice hitting shot clock buzzer-beaters, and another from the perimeter with five seconds on the shot clock.

“Teams are going to make runs, we understand that,’’ Garnett said. “[The Cavaliers are] going to fight and scratch and do whatever they have to do, at least that’s what we were assuming. They came down and hit two threes and you know, you could start to see him [LeBron James] trying to grab the momentum. I felt the timeout was very, very needed at that point. Throughout this series I thought we went through some tough times, I thought we stayed together, played through it. We understood runs are going to happen. For the most part, I’d say we were aggressive for 48 minutes, regardless of their runs or when we did mess up and turn the ball over, but for the most part we were aggressive the whole time.

“Winning is gratifying, when you’re playing the best team in basketball, challenge is there, I don’t have to dress it up, put anything on it. But one thing we don’t lack, that’s confidence. Even when we were playing like crap, trying to get our chemistry problems together in the locker room, and all the things that come with the season. I thought we hit our stride at the right time, we’re a veteran team, we understand when it’s time to lock in as a group, as a unit, and I think we did just that. If anything, it was the experience taking over vs. anything else.’’

Garnett was then asked about James, who can opt of out his contract this summer and become a free agent.

“He’s going to have to make a decision about not just him but his family and his future,’’ Garnett said. “Loyalty is something that hurts you at times, because you can’t get youth back. I can honestly say that if I could go back and do my situation [with Minnesota] over, and knowing what I know about this organization, I’d have done it sooner. But I don’t know what’s going through his mind, he’s a different individual.’’

As for Orlando, Garnett said, “Not celebrating. I think if anything, everybody’s going to go home, relax with their families, be ready for tomorrow.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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