THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Garnett has a healthy outlook on season

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 22, 2011

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The Celtics had plenty to smile about during their 110-86 win over Utah last night. But, though the game turned out to be a laugher, and Shaquille O’Neal landing on some fans in the front row seemed risible at the time, there was a cautionary theme in Kevin Garnett’s postgame comments.

“On this team — it’s like a soap opera on this team,’’ Garnett said. “You’ve got to be ready on this team. You never know who’s going to go down.

“Our biggest thing right now is injuries and we’re trying to weather that storm so you just have to be ready when your number is called.’’

Jermaine O’Neal (left knee) and Shaquille O’Neal (hip) are out of action and Kendrick Perkins (knee surgery) is at least a week away from returning. The Celtics’ inside game will be tested at Washington tonight.

Garnett, though, seems fully recovered from the right leg strain that kept him out of nine games. Garnett returned this week, scoring 51 points in 85 minutes over three games.

Garnett was exceptionally efficient against the Jazz, going for 21 points on 7-for-10 shooting. Garnett also made three steals, upping his season average to 1.73 per game.

Garnett and the other Celtic starters got plenty of rest in the final quarter. A fast start, which included a Shaquille O’Neal assist to Paul Pierce for the opening field goal, was keyed by an excellent passing game.

“Like I said, it’s just part of our work,’’ Pierce said. “Every day we come in here, that’s what we work on — making the passes, running our offense, believing in one another, not caring who gets the credit. You have a selfless group like this, that’s what happens.’’

Garnett helped set the defensive tone.

“We know a lot of their offense goes to their bigs,’’ Garnett said of the Jazz. “They play a lot of high post, a lot of movement — everybody knows Jerry Sloan’s system. And, they’re a physical team. We knew we had to come out and not only meet their bigs’ physicality but to be aggressive ourselves. For the most part we moved the ball, the things we worked on in practice the other day.

“I liked the way we was forceful, we was physical, I thought we was firm. Again, we moved the ball, everything we work on, everything we practiced, was exemplified.’’

The Celtics’ aggressive defense led to fouls piling up. Nate Robinson was disqualified late in the contest. Semih Erden committed his fifth personal foul midway through the final quarter, but survived to the end and totaled 14 points and seven rebounds.

“Semih was aggressive, man,’’ Garnett said. “One of the things we’ve been trying to make sure Semih does is just be aggressive. He understands the plays, we’ve just got to get him to play good basketball in games, continue to play through plays. NBA games are tough, man. It’s not something you pick up in one or two days, it is a work in progress and he’s doing a good job of it. He’s come a long way.

“He’s very good, I don’t think you all understand how methodical [he is] with both hands, and he plays against Shaq and everything and all the bigs every day, so he has no choice but to get better. So, he’s starting to get some time to play, and that’s a good thing.’’

The Celtics’ first game of the second half of the season was their third home game and third victory in five days.

“We focus on us, at least we have a good focus on what we’re doing here,’’ Garnett said. “And we try not to worry about other teams, other organizations. I think the guys did a real good job of playing at home.

“I think one of the things we wanted to do coming into this year is take care of home. The year we won it [the 2007-08 season], that was one of our goals and I think we set that on a priority list as the top priority. You know, home is where your heart is and we’ve just got to continue that and make that something that’s consistent but at the same time carry that momentum on the road.’’

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

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