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Garnett vows to be aggressive

Celtics forward Kevin Garnett sits and stews after a conversation with team president Danny Ainge yesterday. Garnett’s seemingly passive play (nine field goals attempted) was one of the team’s problem areas in Game 1. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett sits and stews after a conversation with team president Danny Ainge yesterday. Garnett’s seemingly passive play (nine field goals attempted) was one of the team’s problem areas in Game 1. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / May 3, 2011

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — It wasn’t that Kevin Garnett was unapproachable yesterday before the Celtics worked out at the University of Miami in preparation for tonight’s Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Heat.

There are times at practice when Garnett grunts and stares at reporters, a figurative “not today’’ sign on his forehead, especially after a difficult loss, which Sunday’s 99-90 Game 1 defeat was. After a conversation with team president Danny Ainge, Garnett slumped against the wall of the practice court and stewed. He was passive most of Game 1, not showing any real aggressiveness until two blocked shots and a streaking dunk in the fourth quarter.

After a week off to gather his thoughts and recharge the battery after a four-game sweep of the Knicks, Garnett was expected to come out with anger and fire, not timidity. He attempted just nine shots, passing up several opportunities for an open midrange jumper.

If the Celtics are to win Game 2, Garnett has to be a bigger factor. He is the conscience and personality of this team. The Celtics appear to take on his mood and Sunday he was overly patient, calculating, and cautious.

Garnett, like teammates, wanted to make the perfect play, fearing getting blown out early. That method didn’t work. Because of defensive slippage against Dwyane Wade and James Jones and an offense that had trouble scoring in the halfcourt, the Celtics trailed by 15 points at halftime. They played exactly the game Miami wanted.

The Heat were the aggressors, getting in the first and second punches while the Celtics held their mouths, looked at the blood, and stared back in amazement. They are usually the team that takes the first swing, that sets the first hard pick or applies the hard foul, but this time the Heat wanted to make the initial statement and certainly did that.

So Garnett sat, sullen.

“Obviously not giving JJ [James Jones] threes,’’ Garnett said when asked about the Game 2 game plan. “We’ve got to clean some stuff up. You pull the pluses out of losses, but the fact of losing hurts.’’

In the pivotal second quarter, when the Celtics allowed their only 30-point period of the game (31), Garnett attempted one shot, an indication that Boston was out of synch. Paul Pierce was as passive as Garnett until he was ejected in the fourth quarter. Rajon Rondo committed two loose-ball fouls, both poor mental decisions, to reduce his first-half minutes and effectiveness, and Delonte West missed two dunks, and picked up a technical and an offensive basket interference.

The Celtics needed a day of reflection yesterday because their errors were just as much mental as physical. They played like a team trying to avoid getting embarrassed. West was trying to match the Heat dunk-for-dunk. That is not his game and that is not Boston’s game. Dunks are bonuses. The Celtics are much more comfortable and just as satisfied with layups off halfcourt execution.

“It seemed like we really couldn’t get out of the starting block,’’ West said. “We couldn’t get to the game plan that we had. We kind of just got caught up in the game and there’s a lot of positive to take away from it. It’s a seven-game series. There have been teams that lost Game 1s before.’’

The Celtics lost Game 1 of the Cleveland series last year, 101-93, as LeBron James scored 35 points and Mo Williams added 20. The Celtics adjusted for Game 2, their approach more aggressive in a 104-86 win.

And that has to be the way they get back into this series. Wade told reporters Saturday that in the April 10 meeting the Heat’s physical play caught the Celtics off guard and “we saw a chink in their armor.’’

So it was only natural for the Heat to try that again. The most disappointing part was that the Celtics played right into Miami’s mental games, which is uncharacteristic of a veteran team. They seemed a bit ashamed that they had been hoodwinked, unable to control their emotions or set the tempo of the game.

“I was stressing ball movement and what they asked us to do as a team and Doc [Rivers] tells me I got to be a lot more aggressive so I will,’’ Garnett said. “Our mind-set has to be a lot more defensive. Mine was probably a lot more offensive. [Tonight] I will be a lot more aggressive.’’

The Celtics need to play with the arrogance and cockiness that has been so familiar the past four years. On Sunday they were subdued, and then when bad things started happening they became almost skittish. Tonight they have to be more composed, more focused, and be steadfast with their plan.

Garnett realized that he was fooled out of his usual role of enforcer and aggressor. And he seems intent on not allowing that to happen again.

“You gotta respect [the physicality],’’ he said. “Two good Eastern Conference teams, there’s going to be some banging. There’s going to be some bumping and bruising. That’s what it is. It’s all good. It’s part of the game. We respect that.

“[Tonight’s] a new game, new day. Get some work and get ready. We’re ready to play.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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