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On offense, it’s Garnett’s move

He’s slow to embrace increased aggression

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / January 9, 2012
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When Kevin Garnett dazzled the fans at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., many of whom were rooting for the Celtics, with a 24-point performance Jan. 1 in a Boston win, it appeared he had heeded coach Doc Rivers’s message about being offensively aggressive.

For the Celtics to be successful this season, Rivers had reiterated, Garnett would need to become more offensively selfish, relying on his refined perimeter game and crafty post moves. The Celtics generally win when Garnett plays a primary role in the offense, but during his time in Boston he has focused on distributing the ball and allowing his teammates to score.

Since that 94-86 victory over the Wizards on New Year’s Day, Garnett is averaging 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 7.7 shot attempts.

Garnett’s attempts have decreased steadily since his arrival in Boston in 2007-08. He tried 3.7 fewer shots in his first season with the Celtics compared with his final season in Minnesota because Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were his new teammates.

But that 13.9 shots-per-game clip from that championship season in Boston has dwindled to 10.1 in his fifth season. His shooting percentage has mostly remained steady, but he has chosen to divert the scoring responsibility to Pierce, Allen, and even Rajon Rondo.

Another year removed from major knee surgery, Garnett appears healthy and nimble enough to make more of an offensive contribution. It’s natural that age (35) has slowed his ability to produce big numbers such as that night in Washington more consistently, but Rivers isn’t asking for 20-10 nights. He’s asking for 15 shot attempts.

“Usually when he does pass the ball, it’s a good decision, but we want him to be more aggressive offensively and he’s getting there slowly, you can see it,’’ Rivers said. “He’s so skilled. It’s unbelievable, but he’s also so unselfish.’’

In this lockout-compacted season, Rivers has made sure to limit Garnett’s minutes and maximize his productivity by using him in five-minute intervals.

Garnett said fatigue is not an issue in the early season, despite the short training camp and preseason. He admits to being stubborn, preaching the team concept so often that he finds it difficult to embrace more self-centered ways offensively.

“I do a number of things,’’ Garnett said. “You talk about Ray shoots threes. Paul is our leader, he scores the basketball. I am one of those X factors, you need me to score, I can score. You need me to play defense, I can play defense. I’m like the glue here. Doc’s got this much foot in my [expletive] right now because I’m not shooting the ball. So I consider myself the X factor; whatever you need me to do I can go out and do.’’

That was Wednesday night. Two nights later, Garnett attempted eight shots in 34 minutes in an 87-74 loss to the Pacers at the Garden. He finished with 12 points and six rebounds, hardly placing his large imprint on the game. Garnett has attempted 10 or fewer shots in five of eight games. Save for a fourth-quarter stretch in the season-opener against the Knicks, and the season-best performance against Washington, Garnett has been mostly passive.

The process of encouraging him to be more aggressive will be tough for Rivers.

While it’s encouraging for the Celtics that Garnett’s knee and his stamina are sound, his days as a volume scorer may be gone, especially if he insists on continuing an unselfish approach.

“No,’’ Garnett said when asked if he made an increased effort to shoot. “I made a valid effort to be a lot more aggressive, to follow the game plan, whatever is asked of me I do. Nothing more or less than that. I think everybody [Friday night] was trying at one point to see if he could obviously rejuvenate the team or restart the team vs. doing it together, that’s just every guy having some pride. We usually make comebacks when we do it together. This is a great learning tool.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashburn14

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