THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

He’s a ‘Ticket’ to ride

In a tireless effort, Garnett picks up the team on both ends of court

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / May 5, 2012
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He wasn’t the star of the game - that role went to the high-octane, high-maintenance Rajon Rondo.

He wasn’t the man who was going to take the potential winning shot - that role is generally reserved for Paul Pierce.

Not that any of that bothers Kevin Garnett these days. He fills other roles for the Celtics. Always has and probably always will as he closes in on his 36th birthday (May 19) and is getting closer and closer to the last hurrah of a magical career that began 17 years ago, when Rondo was a 9-year-old.

All that Garnett did on Friday night was play 42 minutes in the Celtics’ 90-84 overtime win over the Hawks, which gave Boston a 2-1 lead in their Eastern Conference first-round series.

All that Garnett did was score 20 points, pull down 13 rebounds, block 4 shots, and come up with a steal in an effort so draining that he spent almost as much time after the game with showers, massages, and other treatments, all part of the Fountain of Youth formula Garnett has been using the past few years.

“He was terrific,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who was forced to use Garnett for more minutes in more crucial situations as the Hawks wiped out an 11-point deficit in the final quarter and sent the game into overtime. “[The Hawks] kept changing lineups, going five guards and then they went big. And Kevin had to do all the talking. He was basically the linebacker out on the floor. All by himself. And that’s hard. That’s a hard job to do.’’

In three games in this series, Garnett has done it each night in a different manner.

In the Celtics’ opening 83-74 loss in Atlanta, he played 40 minutes and scored 20 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.

In Game 2 - in which the Celtics played without Ray Allen and Rondo - Garnett played 40 minutes, scored 15 points, and pulled down 12 rebounds in an 87-80 win.

Friday night’s efforts produced a win, but Garnett again paid a price.

“I don’t think we shot the ball very well tonight,’’ said Garnett, who couldn’t include himself in that evaluation since he made 9 of his 18 shots. “Or played very well offensively. But defensively, it was all clicking. That’s what carried us.’’

When asked about Rivers’s plan of rotating his veterans in five-minute segments, Garnett laughed.

“I wasn’t aware of that,’’ he said. “The way my body feels tonight, I felt like I went 40, 40, 40. So I can’t really tell. The time I’m in there, I go as hard as I can. I’m not paying attention to how long I’m in there.’’

And it’s not just the physical aspect of the games. It is the mental aspect as well.

“You have to get stops,’’ he said. “We’re a mentally strong team.’’

Garnett knows what his role is.

“I’m the last line of defense,’’ he said. “I’m out there like a dispatcher. Communicating with guys, telling them the coverages.’’

Garnett’s teammates are aware of what he has done, what he can do, and what he has meant to a franchise trying to put together a championship run.

Forward Mickael Pietrus, who joined the Celtics in January, remembers Garnett from his early days at Minnesota. He says what Garnett offers as an example of a style and a mind-set is as important as what he actually does on the court.

“My relationship with KG started a long time ago when I started my NBA career, watching him play,’’ said Pietrus. “That’s where my defense came from. That’s where my hunger for winning came from. I got them from him.

“For me it’s a blessing to have my locker right next to him. The young fellas in the NBA should try and learn from him. I respect his greatness. To me, he is one of my favorite players of all time. The way he worked. The way he has done it for 16 years.

“For the young players, they should just watch KG for one time.’’

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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