The bulk of the talk tonight immediately after the Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic centered around the return of Kevin Garnett.
“I said to somebody else that we look like a totally different team,” said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. “He doesn’t always show up with his numbers, but his presence and his feel for the game and everything he does for this team goes far beyond the numbers, and you see it tonight. We look like a team who is ready, who is energized, who is locked in. That’s the culture he’s brought here since Day 1 he’s been here, and its infectious.”
Said Shaquille O’Neal, “He’s our leader. He’s our vocal leader, he’s our defensive leader. It was good to have him back.”
Doc River said before the game that Garnett could have returned Friday night against the Bobcats if he was needed. But without the need to rush Garnett back, the Celtics gave their defensive captain the chance to wait until he was completely ready.
“Before the Charlotte game, I didn’t really feel comfortable practicing, but I did anyway and I pushed myself,” said Garnett. “I could tell right away I wasn’t ready or where I wanted to be. So I got a couple days of practice in, and I asked Paul [Pierce] right away, who’s probably the most truthful, the most blunt — and I’ve known him since I was 13 or 14, and I value his word — I asked him. And he told me I looked very good, and I told him I felt strong.”
— Pierce uses balance better than any offensive player in the league. He scored what was essentially the game-sealing basket with 38.7 seconds remaining, faking Jason Richardson into the air before dropping in an elbow jumper, plus the foul.
“It was just a play we worked on,” said Pierce. “I’ve run it a number of times. We got the switch with Jason Richardson and coach just said to be aggressive. I think he trusts me with the responsibility to be responsible with the ball and to take the shot or trying to find somebody. I was just able to get the space and I saw some day light and got a good look.”
— The Celtics shot 60 percent from the field in the game, an almost unheard of stat in a game so close. Rivers went into the locker room afterward with the intent to chide his team to do better on offense.
“Kevin was laughing because after the game the first thing I said is ‘We can execute better offensively,'” said Rivers. “And they all started laughing because they knew the percentage already. I didn’t know the percentage at that point, because I don’t look at those stats. But it was great. The ball movement was good.”
— Ray Allen hit 3 of 4 3-pointers in the game, including a killer shot with 2:16 remaining that put the Celtics back up 102-101. Allen is now 28 threes shy of breaking Reggie Miller’s all-time NBA record for 3-pointers made. Miller was in the house tonight as a broadcaster for TNT.