When Kevin Garnett came to the Celtics for the 2007-2008 season, he brought with him his own language in addition to his All-Star play and trademark intensity. After a game against the Rockets that season, Garnett offered up this gem.
"My gas is high," said Garnett "You know when you play the best in the league you cant go in with low gas. You know you got to have a lot of high octane."
Garnett used the same analogy after games against the Sonics and Bobcats that season, adding some consistency to his colorful lexicon. So observant Celtics fans were undoubtedly nostalgic when Garnett began his press conference Thursday night with a shot at Hawks owner Michael Gearon.
"First off I want to say thank you to their owner for giving me some extra gas tonight," said Garnett, referring to Gearon's comments after Game 5 that Garnett was the dirtiest player in the league. "My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, he know what he's talking about."
Coming from anyone but Garnett, the comment would have seemed reactionary. It would have seemed off the cuff. But a quick search of five years of this reporter's post-game Celtics quotes revealed three instances where Garnett used the "gas" analogy. By bringing it up tonight, Garnett was channeling his former self.
The obvious corollary is that Garnett channeled his former self tonight on the court with his 28 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks. This was the 2008 Kevin Garnett, the Kevin Garnett that became a legend in Boston after one season and matched his bluster with MVP-caliber play. Garnett was the best player on the court in Game 6 vs. the Hawks, and it wasn't even close.
The general consensus before this season was that the 2008 Kevin Garnett would never again be seen on the court; KG was the poster child for the Celtics being too old. But a team of old guys is through one round of the playoffs and is favored in the next. And this time, just as in the team's previous playoff runs, it feels right.
With 3:10 remaining in the third quarter of Game 6, both the Celtics and Hawks looked up from the huddle as highlights showing the Philadelphia 76ers eliminating the Chicago Bulls showed up on the JumboTron. Sixers players were overjoyed for getting through the first round of the playoffs. Their fans shared in their jubilation. It was a wonderful basketball moment for a team trying to break through.
The scene was in stark contrast to the one at TD Garden when the final buzzer sounded in the Celtics' 83-80 win over the Hawks, and to the one in the Celtics locker room following the game. Celtics players exchanged hugs with each other and with dejected Hawks players. There was very little jumping up and down. The Celtics had done their job, but there was an understanding that there is more to go.
When Paul Pierce addressed reporters in the locker room, he was all business. Dressed in a tan suit, he talked about KG's consistency. He talked about big plays by Avery Bradley and by Ryan Hollins. It was the same speech he's given about players like Tony Allen, James Posey, Eddie House, P.J. Brown, and others over the years. Role players are supposed to step in and do the job. Garnett is supposed to be intense. The Celtics are supposed to perform to the best of their abilities.
"This could be our last chance together," said Pierce. "So we're going to give it one last run and then see what happens."
It's a sobering thought. Garnett and Pierce's press conferences went off at virtually the same time as Josh Beckett's press conference over at Fenway Park. The contrast in the way Beckett approached his job and Pierce and Garnett approached theirs could not be more different.
If this is the Celtics' last run, it's comforting to see that they haven't wavered from the message they set forth in 2008. Garnett is still running through walls to win, and he's got a young point guard with the same level of drive. Ray Allen is obsessive in a different way, while Pierce provides perspective. Some might have thought it was impossible for a team filled with superstars from Day 1 to evolve positively, but this team has become eminently rootable.
The Celtics took care of business in a difficult series in round one, and they're already talking about Friday's 1 p.m. practice that will prepare them for round two. At some point during these playoffs they may run into a more talented team, and the Celtics may bow out earlier than their fans want. But they won't surprise you. With this team, you know what you're going to get. And heading into another difficult series, that's got to feel pretty good.