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Bob Ryan

Garnett’s greed pays dividends

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 8, 2011

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It’s nice and noble when the Big Ticket wants to be the Big Facilitator, but there are times when he can make you scream.

Pass, pass, pass. Pass up your own layup so someone else can take a contested 15-footer. Pass up a shot for your own Hall-of-Fame self so a less worthy teammate can take a shot. It can get maddening, all the more so when he does this in a playoff game.

But Kevin Garnett knew last night was different. He was already on record as saying that this Game 3 with the Heat, his team down, 0-2, was “the season,’’ and so he must have decided it was time to make a substitution without even bothering to clear it with Doc Rivers.

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Out: The Big Facilitator.

In: The seldom-seen Big Mr. Take Charge.

There will be a Game 5 in Miami Wednesday night, and perhaps a whole lot more, and the primary reason was the play of Kevin Garnett, whose 28 points and 18 very manly rebounds led the Celtics to a 97-81 victory over the Heat, reducing the Miami series edge to 2-1 and setting up an enticing Game 4 tomorrow night that will tell us most of what we need to know about each team.

In the first two games the primary story was that Miami’s two 20-something megastars, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, were outplaying Boston’s three 30-something megastars, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and, yes, Garnett, whose meager statistical contribution in Game 1 was 6 points and three rebounds.

That changed last evening. James (15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 6-for-16 shooting) and Wade (23 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists) were under control. In fact, the main reason the Heat had a 46-44 halftime lead was the play of bench personnel Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers. This time the Celtics’ stars had their way, beginning with Paul Pierce (27 points), who had 10 of the first 14 Boston points as the Celtics moved into the lead, and continuing with Garnett, who had a nice, solid first half and who then imposed his will on the game during a third period in which the Celtics outscored the Heat, 28-15.

The game was decided in the third period — the fourth period was strictly NBA maintenance. And the third period belonged to Garnett, who spiced up his reliable outside shooting game with a pivot display in which he channeled his inner Kevin McHale four times with two powerful spinning jump hooks, a layup on a dish from Pierce, and even a running hook. By the period’s end he had all 28 of his points and 15 of his 18 rebounds after putting a 14-point, five-rebound quarter in the books.

But it wasn’t Kevin McHale who came to mind when Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was asked to assess the brilliant play of Garnett. No, it was an NBA immortal even higher on the all-time food chain.

“Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,’’ Spoelstra said.

The Miami mentor wasn’t talking in Big Picture terms. It turns out Spoelstra is something of an amateur NBA historian, because he had something very specific in mind; namely, Kareem’s spectacular Game 2 in the 1985 Finals, when, following the memorable Memorial Day Massacre in which the Celtics mauled the Lakers to the tune of 148-114, he brooded all day Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, emerging in Game 2 that Thursday evening with a monster game of 30 points, 17 rebounds (the most he had grabbed in, believe it or not, 10 years), 8 assists, and 3 blocks as the Lakers evened the series. Kareem used that game as a springboard to an MVP award as the Lakers won in six.

Apparently, Spoelstra could envision the notoriously intense Garnett working himself into some similar avenging state following the two Celtics losses in Miami.

“Everybody was throwing dirt on Kareem,’’ Spoelstra said. “And while all this fuel was going on in the last three days, I was cringing. Garnett has been one of the best players in the league since he was a rookie [15] years ago, and he is very proud.’’

It was a game he was incapable of playing a year ago, when he was recuperating from the knee injury that took him out of the 2009 playoffs. But he was something more like his old self on many occasions this year. It was almost always the same deferential Kevin Garnett who has so often confounded fans, media, and perhaps even coaches by his refusal to show even a smidgen of beneficial selfishness on the court.

Well, KG benched that KG last night. He inserted instead a more pragmatic KG, a guy who knew when he had mismatches, when he had the feel, and when it was time to pull the trigger. This was not a night when he needed to worry about apologizing for a sparse assist total (1). No doubt he’ll make up for that before the series is over.

His judgment was unerring in this one.

“He was terrific,’’ said Rivers. “Like I said before the game, in Game 2 he had 20 shots, but they weren’t the shots we wanted. Tonight he had 20 shots and they were the right shots. His jump shots were from the elbow, and not too far out. His corner shots were in the right spot. And when he got in the middle of the lane he turned in, instead of away.’’

It was a Kevin Garnett people have cried out for countless times, but it’s really against his nature to shoot, rather than pass. Is it possible that, at nearly 35, he will summon that more offensively aggressive Kevin Garnett more often? Or was this simply a product of him having that Kareem reaction so dreaded by Spoelstra and thus we will see his old over-passing self tomorrow night?

Perhaps Doc needs to show him this tape, politely pointing out to him that when you have Kevin Garnett talent, a little offensive greed is actually a good thing.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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