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Garnett, frontcourt get manhandled

By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / June 4, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — If an NBA player runs about two miles a game, then Kevin Garnett has covered enough ground in his career to circle the globe.

At a relatively young 34, the Big Ticket already ranks among the all-time leaders in minutes played, at more than 45,000.

Wear and tear, thy name is KG.

Which may explain in part why Garnett found himself outplayed by Pau Gasol last night in a pivotal matchup as the Celtics dropped the opener of the NBA Finals to the Lakers, 102-89.

Appearing to exert maximum effort while playing on his surgically repaired right knee, Garnett finished with 16 points but mustered only four measly rebounds and one blocked shot in 34 minutes 47 seconds of playing time. Gasol, meanwhile, torched the Celtics with 23 points, 14 boards, and 3 blocks.

“I’m better than I was tonight,’’ Garnett said afterward in the glum visitors locker room. “I played like horse[expletive].’’

The game was lost largely in the paint, where the Celtics’ big men, primarily Garnett and Kendrick Perkins, were generally manhandled by Gasol and Co. The Lakers outscored Boston, 48-30, in the paint and outrebounded the Celtics, 42-31.

Perkins, who finished with only 8 points and three rebounds, joined Garnett in accepting much of the blame for the loss. Perkins failed to block a shot and was outplayed from the start by Lakers center Andrew Bynum.

“I didn’t have any impact on the defensive end at all, and it all starts with me,’’ Perkins said. “I’ve got to do better.’’

Garnett’s futility was encapsulated by a sequence midway through the fourth quarter as the Celtics were scrambling to get back in the game after falling behind by 20 late in the third quarter. Poised for an easy dunk that would have cut the deficit to 11, Garnett completely flubbed a layup attempt, then butchered a follow-up effort as if his arms and legs were betraying him.

Moments later, Gasol compounded the frustration for KG and the Celtics by setting up Lamar Odom for a jumper that extended LA’s lead to 93-78. Boston failed to cut the lead to fewer than 10 points the rest of the way.

“I’m pretty sure everybody needs to step up a little bit, including myself,’’ Garnett said, his head bowed.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, playing mind games in the run-up to the series, portrayed Garnett as a rugged force with “a smack-down mentality.’’ But Gasol was the aggressor throughout last night’s game, just two years after he was ridiculed as the symbol of Laker softness after the Celtics overpowered Jackson’s team in six games in the 2008 Finals.

Garnett left no doubt he considered himself bested by Gasol in Game 1.

“He was aggressive,’’ Garnett said. “They beat us in rebounding, and you definitely can’t win a game, especially on the road, with getting outrebounded.’’

Garnett’s performance appears to have slipped in recent games. After long ranking among the league leaders in double-doubles, he has mustered only one double-double in his last six games, a 14-point, 12-rebound effort against the Magic in Game 4 of the conference finals. He has led the Celtics in scoring only twice in 18 postseason games, both against Cleveland’s weaker frontcourt. And he has topped 20 points in only one playoff game, posting 22 in Game 6 against the Cavaliers.

Just when it looked like Garnett had stepped it up after an erratic regular season, his performance against the Lakers appeared indicative of a superstar trying to keep pace with a weary body.

“We need to do better,’’ Garnett said, “and I’ve got to initiate it.’’

Whether he and Perkins can reverse the downward trend will be determined in Game 2 Sunday.

“We won’t beat them playing like we did tonight,’’ Perkins said. “It starts with the bigs. It starts with us.’’

Bob Hohler can be reached at hohler@globe.com.

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