Kevin Garnett’s pregame routine is a blur of sweat and sinew. He ties his shorts, butts his head into the padded stanchion that supports the basket, and claps his hands together in an explosion of powder.
But seconds before tonight's game with the Clippers was supposed to start, Garnett stood at midcourt and screamed to the Celtics bench as if the world was going to end.
The panic-stricken Garnett was looking for the sticky mat he wipes his sneakers on before stepping onto the court before every game. It’s well-known that the superstar does not like to change routines, but he last played a game at TD Banknorth Garden on Feb. 8, so you can excuse the arena’s event staff if they’d forgotten just how he likes things.
The incident was a sign that the Celtics have not fully integrated Garnett into the lineup, and that the superstar power forward may not be running on all cylinders.
Not just yet.
Garnett had 12 points and 2 rebounds Monday night in a 90-77 win over Los Angeles, turning in an extremely efficient performance to hand the Clippers their 54th loss of a dismal season. But Garnett’s minutes in the game were limited to nine in the first quarter and nine in the third, and he appeared tired on several occasions. He didn’t play in the second or fourth quarters.
“He’s still not ready for long minutes,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “The tough thing with him, he plays a long stretch and he gets better toward the end of the minutes. It’s like he’s warming up. But you know the minute you take him out, then that’s it. The next step is to be able to put him back in.”
Despite fatigue, Garnett’s trademark defense was there for most of the night. The Celtics held the Clippers to 43-percent shooting for the game. His trademark intensity fueled by the home crowd, Garnett squeezed the ball tightly and let out a primal scream when the Celtics forced a shot clock violation at the 2:56 mark in the first quarter.
“He holds everybody accountable,” said Rivers. “You could see it. He was on guys today defensively about getting into the right spots.”
On offense, Garnett could not have been more efficient. He made all three of his field goal attempts in the first half and both attempts in the second to go along with 2-for-2 shooting from the line.
“He just opens up things,” said Celtics forward Paul Pierce. “We’ve got such a great chemistry when our starting five is out there. When we’ve got him out there we’re like one.”
The Celtics weren’t quite whole without Garnett, going 7-6 in the 13 games since he sprained his right knee on Feb. 19. But they’re not exactly running on all cylinders since his return, despite their 3-0 record. Unable to use Garnett for extended minutes Monday night, the Celtics blew a 13-point first-quarter lead and allowed Los Angeles to get back into the game before halftime.
“It’s very difficult sitting back, knowing that you’re limited and time and what you can do,” Garnett said.
Things weren’t perfect when Garnett was in the game, either. He was the last Celtics player up the court on a number of offensive possessions. And on his favorite play, an alley-oop from Rajon Rondo at the 4:40 mark in the third quarter, he came down tentatively, almost apologetically, after the dunk.
“I came down laughing because it’s been a long time since I’ve had one from that far,” Garnett said. “But it felt good. Rondo and I have a pretty good communication on that play.”
A little more than a minute later, Rivers called a timeout and Garnett’s night was over. He’d have to sit on the bench for more than a quarter more of game action before he could sway to the smooth moves of Gino on the Jumbotron.
Garnett said after the game that he, Rivers, and trainer Ed Lacerte would continue to talk about his minutes.
“As the season goes on, I’m sure [the minutes] will go up,” said Garnett. “Everybody’s been precautionary, which is understandable. I’m trying to be as patient… But while I’m in there I’m going to try and raise as much havoc as I can.”