The position the Celtics find themselves in, up three-games-to-two on the Cleveland Cavaliers, is similar to the spot they were in a year ago when they held the same edge through five games of their second round series with the Orlando Magic. The specifics – home court advantage and LeBron James (No. 1a on the list of the planet’s best players) -- are a little different. Garnett’s presence, however, makes the Celtics a different team from the one that lost to Orlando in both Games 6 and 7 as well.
“Last year, we didn’t have KG so I know the spirit’s going to be there,” said Kendrick Perkins said. “Just having him for the focus in the locker room. Once he gets to the game, it’s quiet. There’s a great focus. Everybody’s going to get focused because he’s focused.
“One thing about KG, he just leads by example. So guys have kind of got to follow, whether it’s Paul following, Rasheed following. He leads by example. KG brings that intensity to the game. His energy level is high. Forget his skills, he’s just a man of great focus and he demands for his teammates to go hard.”
A year ago, Garnett’s demands only went so far. As much as he was seen barking from the Celtics bench, taunting opponents, he was also doing as much teaching as possible, particularly to his understudy Glen Davis. But watching the games frustrated him to the point that after watching the first half of the Celtics playoff-opening overtime loss to the Bulls he retreated to the locker room for the second half.
Davis could have hit as many shots as he wanted, but the void Garnett left was practically impossible to fill. This year, Garnett’s voice booms on defense. The Celtics have fed him to the point of gluttony in the post, trying to take advantage of his matchup with Antawn Jamison. But above all else, his focus forces his teammates to sharpen theirs.
“When he wasn’t there, that leadership, we had it from Paul and Ray and Rondo, but it’s a whole different experience when you’ve got ‘5’ in there,” Davis said. “He makes sure everything runs right. If something’s lacking he says something. He can carry a team with his actions. So, having him there this year is going to help us a lot.
“I was in his place, but at the same time, Kevin’s a verbal leader. His actions, his intensity, his post-up presence, it’s a lot of things that we didn’t have last year. I was scoring the points but at the same time, he’s a different person than me. He’s a whole different breed.”