NEW YORK — The sight of Celtics forward Kevin Garnett imploring his teammates to do something more on the court is a familiar one. The sight of Doc Rivers imploring Garnett to do anything more than he usually does on the court is about as rare as Garnett cracking a smile during crunch time.
But during Boston’s 101-89 win over the New York Knicks last night in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden, the Celtics coach implored his big man to shoot. More. As often as he wanted. Garnett had taken just four shots in the first half and had made three of them. The Celtics could have used that kind of shooting percentage considering Paul Pierce was 1 of 10 from the floor before halftime.
“I don’t get on Kevin often,” said Rivers. “But today he was so pass-conscious because of the trapping. We had times where there were point guards on him. We just wanted him to be aggressive.”
Garnett listened to his coach and came out firing in the third quarter, doing his best Carmelo Anthony impression and exploding for 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the period. But he may have taken his coach’s advice too far. With Garnett as the main offensive option, the Celtics’ lead shrunk from 23 points to 10 points.
“We got away from what we call our formula,” said Rivers. “We went to too much [isolation], too much post where they could see us and trap us. And that allowed them to trap.”
It wasn’t that Rivers didn’t want Garnett to shoot. He clearly had his shot working. Rivers just wanted Garnett’s scoring to be a product of the team’s offense, not the focus of it.
With 10:12 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Celtics leading 82-76, Rivers brought Garnett back into the game. Garnett drew a foul and hit a pair of free throws on his first offensive possession, then missed a turnaround jumper and a layup as the Celtics’ lead dwindled to just four. The Celtics had gone more than seven minutes without hitting a field goal. At the 7:33 mark, Rivers called a timeout for the Celtics to regroup. After the break, the team — as well as Garnett — found a better flow.
“We just went back to doing what we were doing all of Game 3 and most of tonight,” said Rivers “And that was multiple options. And let [Rajon] Rondo make a decision.”
Rondo wisely decided to go back to the hot hand of Garnett down the stretch. Two two executed pick-and-pop plays with 4:12 left and with 2:04 left in the game. Each time, Garnett’s jumper was pure. The shots took the air out of a Knicks crowd that had awoken for the first time in two games in New York. And they showed that Garnett wasn’t going to hesitate taking a shot in crunch time.
Garnett said the plays were executed to perfection.
“On those type of plays Rondo usually takes my man with him,” said Garnett. “I just have to get the proper spacing and knock the shot down.”
Garnett finished with 26 points, becoming the fourth Celtic to lead the team in scoring in four games vs. the Knicks. After outputs of 15 points, 9 points, and 12 points in Games 1 through 3 respectively, Garnett’s scoring was a welcome surprise.
“He’s so unselfish,” Rivers said of his All-Star forward. “He’s going to pass the ball anyways at the end of the day. And it was great to see it. Fourth quarter scoring for him has been very good for us all year, and he did that again tonight. He was great.”