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Choke hold

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff May 6, 2008 08:39 AM

It was a throwaway line, buried deep by the Globe's Dan Shaughnessy on Sunday, 699 words into his 785-word column on a Game 7 that nobody in Boston had wanted.

Nearly 48 hours after the Celtics took care of the Hawks -- finally -- in an old-fashioned Garden rout, it is the one statement that still serves as warning for a team that suddenly has its jubilant fans in doubt for the first time all season.

"As for Garnett, I have only two words of warning: Alex Rodriguez."


Alex. Rodriguez.

The fact that the message can be so clear just by uttering a name reflects a sad state of affairs. The name rings of no rings. It speaks of failure in the clutch, the inability to get the job done when it matters most. No other name sparks various arrays of emotion, ranging from hatred to adoration. None other conveys the image of a choke artist, the game’s best player who has repeatedly had the opportunity for professional glory yanked from him by the inability to perform, the poster child for gagging in the limelight.

We base so much of our memories of an athlete’s greatness on whether he stepped up in time of need. Often, it’s an unfair assessment of their situations. It’s why we remember John Elway as one of the greatest quarterbacks who ever played the game, while relegating Dan Marino to “A-Rod” status. Meanwhile, we tend to forget the surrounding cast, seem to push to the side peripheral truths to the title runs. If Elway doesn’t have Terrell Davis, odds are that he’s in the ringless wing with Marino.

CWTBO becomes an extra line on their state sheet. Can’t Win The Big One.

That has been the semi-tag on Celtics star Kevin Garnett, who has yet to win an NBA title despite being one of the game’s best players over the past decade-plus. Now, with a supporting cast that screams all for one, one for all, he has his best shot at one. Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo form a supporting cast that could deliver Garnett to glory, and have the CWTBO tag removed forever.

But a seven-game series against the eighth-seed Hawks has Celtics fans a bit ... well, confused about what they have here. If they can’t stop Joe Johnson, how in the world will they stop LeBron James? If they can’t beat Atlanta on the road, how will they fare in Cleveland against a team that is much stronger than the one they struggled against in the first round?

For a playoff season that started with two convincing victories and yawns on the parts of Celtics fans, the tension and drama arrived a little earlier than expected. It was supposed to arrive with the start of Game 1 against the Cavaliers, the East’s entry in the NBA Finals of a year ago. The Chosen One vs. the New Big Three.

Instead, the Celtics plodded through a trio of road games and now their No. 1 star is being compared to the biggest choke artist in all of sports.

Writes ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski:

The A-Rod comparison gives you some idea about the hoops anxiety level in this town. On a scale of Nervous, Scared and Wicked Scared, the Celtics and their fans were somewhere between Option 1 and 2. They're better now, but that can change if a rested LeBron James and the Cavaliers win the first game of this next series.

Boston doesn't hold a grudge. I mean, they forgave Billy Buckner. And all it took was 22 years.

We’ll let the ridiculous Buckner assessment hang for a moment to agree with Wojciechowski’s overall point here. “Garnett isn't anywhere near A-Rod territory yet.”


In a backwards sort of way, this focus sort of puts the pressure on James and the Cavs in the back seat. Nobody is saying that James CWTBO yet, if only because he has been in the league a fraction of the time that Garnett has starred in it. And yet if Cleveland is ousted from the playoffs by Boston, nobody will say of James what they will say about Garnett in particular. The A-Rod comparisons will multiply on Causeway Street, and languish deep into the summer, when another former Minnesotan, CWTBO guy, Randy Moss, will begin his second season in New England.

Fair or unfair, a title is how we ultimately judge an athlete’s greatness, an often ironic judgment seeing as Doug Mirabelli has two more World Series rings than Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, and Rodriguez combined.

Back in March, the Pistons excused themselves from winning the No. 1 seed in the East based on the fact that they wouldn’t have to face No. 3 seed Cleveland until possibly the conference finals. And by that time, Boston and Cleveland might have beat up on each other enough that a trip to the finals would become a little easier. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, come into this series after kicking back over the weekend, with little to do but watch tape of the way the Hawks handled the Celtics.

It didn’t turn out that way. Little in sports does follow a set plan, despite an avalanche of predictions, odds, and keys to the games, all of which go awry at some point in a playoff series. Kevin Garnett is "supposed" to win an NBA title. So is LeBron, we assume.

But only one will be likened to the greatest CWTBO in all of sports, no matter the performances of the guys in green around him. It’s common practice to point out that Garnett, Pierce, and Allen have a total of zero rings among them. As the trio goes, so does Garnett. So do the Celtics’ chances of an elongated season.

A-Rod? No.

Not yet.

Twelve more wins though, and Garnett can guarantee the comparison to become what it was prior to Game 7 on Sunday, a throwaway line, buried beneath all the questions and concern that preceeded it.

20 comments so far...
  1. Throughout his career Garnett has been on teams that were the lower seed in the playoffs. There was not one year where Minnesota was expected to do anything in the playoffs except for the season when they had Cassell and Sprewell. That year they made the conference finals and lost to the Lakers in large part due to injuries.

    Looking at the supporting cast he has had, it's pretty ridiculous to criticize Garnett for not winning a title.

    Posted by Tom May 6, 08 11:07 AM
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  1. No one can be an Arod...CHB like to create controversy... The Celts are not considered a shoo in by the experts,so if KG and the boys fail to win the whole thing, people will not be cutting he or the team up....
    If Kevin does not score a point against the Cavs, anyone who just associates him with Arod would be a real clown.

    Posted by neil May 6, 08 12:41 PM
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  1. Can't compare to A-Rod who has unquestionably been the best player of his generation. Can't say that about KG, one of the better players, but not in the Kobe, LeBron, Duncan, et al, elite category.

    Posted by Steve Drinan May 6, 08 12:44 PM
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  1. I'm sorry but some of Shaugnessey's articles following the Celtics are the most pompous things I've ever read. It's like he doesn't enjoy the ride because its not what he expected it to be. In this case - he just expects a title. Anyone that has ever-played organized sports for twenty minutes knows that there is a difference between the tournament, i.e., naming the champion, and the regular season. The Celts are not entitled to anything despite their storied past. Frankly, I don't think he deserves to write about Boston sports. They seem to be above his ability to reason and properly assess what is occurring at the professional level. The fact that someone like this has a voice is bad for sports in general.

    Posted by MIke H. May 6, 08 12:58 PM
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  1. Wilbur - I consistently hesitate to read the idiocy you commit to paper/internet. Once again, in this post you demonstrate a complete lack of depth, knowledge or intelligent opinion. I wonder, do you settle into Sportscenter with a notebook so you can regurgitate everything you hear? Do you have any opinions of your own that are born out of a solid factual foundation? Or is it all just trying to sound inflammatory and "cool"?

    I'll be more specific: if I'm not mistaken, this entire post was dedicated to disproving your lead. KG is like A-Rod! Say it ain't so! Ok...it, uh, ain't. So. Of course, no real facts are presented on either side. Just some stuff you read about other people (including, for some bizarre reason, Bill Buckner, who has zero relevance -- you just seem to enjoy throwing his name out there).

    Stop brushing the surface. Dig in someplace with something real. And i know: it's my choice to read or not to read...I'll take the latter.

    Posted by ez May 6, 08 01:06 PM
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  1. Stop trying to sell news with negativity!! A-Rod doesn't win because he has no heart and plays with bush league antics every t-baller learns not to do at age 7. A-Rod and Iverson, now that is a comparison.

    Shaughnessy's column showed the same bush league antics and negativity that A-rod brings to the Yankees. Are we going to bring the curse back next week? Manny might be in a slump.

    I know this is the best team Garnet, Piece and Allen have ever been on and I can only question the character of the author.

    Posted by Jay May 6, 08 01:11 PM
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  1. If anyone on the C's should be compared to A-rod it should be Paul Pierce. I do not recall Garnett throwing his headband for a technical foul in the 4th quarter of a close game (a la A-rod slapping the ball out of Arroyo's glove). Look at the way Paul played in game 7, if he had done that in any of the roads this series would have ended alot sooner.

    Posted by Rob S May 6, 08 01:37 PM
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  1. I try to avoid CHB, and here you go putting him in another article. Well done.

    Posted by Bob Wehadababyitsaboy May 6, 08 01:40 PM
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  1. On this issue, frankly, one must consider the source. Throughout the years Mr. Shaughnessy has demonstrated a mean streak surpassed only by his ignorance. He has made numerous failed analogies over the years comparing baseball and/or baseball players to other sports. This analogy is no different. As an aside, perhaps it says something about him that he criticizes a player who is all about team, who is unselfish, who makes his teammates better. Over the years NBA players have been criticized by many for being ball hogs, for selfishness, for thinking only of stats. Here, in KG, we have an all-time great player, a certain HOFamer who exemplifies everything one would want in a team player, who is responsible for the greatest turnaround in NBA history, and he gets subjected to the narrow minded criticism we have here.

    Posted by TD May 6, 08 02:06 PM
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  1. I have to agree with the majority here - and I consider myself an expert on KG. I used to live in Minneapolis, have followed KG since the first day he stepped foot in the Target Center. Why make any comparison to A-Rod- KG has heart, ethics, morals, drive, integrity, talent, and smarts. KG is there to play the game, A-Rod is there for a pretty picture. Don't put the two of them in the same sentence, it's demeaning to the man who came, and in conjunction with the rest of the team, lifted the Celtics to where they deserve to be.

    Championship or not, KG, and every other Celtic deserves our thanks. Who cares if it went seven games - I was there for game 7 and I haven't felt that energy about the Celtics since I was a kid.

    So let's all grow up and just enjoy the ride, whatever it may bring. Because if nothing else, isn't it nice to watch a game and ignore politics, oil prices, food prices, all the crap going on in this world, just for a little while?

    Posted by curious May 6, 08 02:29 PM
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  1. Kevin Garnett: A selfless, over paid athlete (they all are) athlete who is the physical being of energy and emotion. A player who wants so badly to win, that it almost seems to elude him because he simply pushes himself to hard. A person who cheers on his teammates in the wanning moments of a 30 point rout because he loves winning. He positively changed the career path of that entire team when he arrived.

    A-Rod: A selfish, rediculously over paid athlete who shows little emotion in success and failure alike. Someone who visibly doesn't seem to care about winning or losing but knows he has so much pressure on him to do it that he tightens up in the clutch. Self created pressure. Has been know to distance himself from teammates. Set the Texas rangers oganization back years when he signed his record contract and didn't seem to care.

    Aside from the lack of a ring (which many incredible athletes are left without), there really isn't much at all to compare.

    Posted by Donny L. May 6, 08 02:55 PM
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  1. KG is not half the athlete A-Rod is. KG also became visibly scared of ZaZa. Thats embarrassing. KG sucks and so does Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. What makes people think these guys are gonna win. They have been losers all of their life.

    Posted by jeremy green May 6, 08 03:04 PM
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  1. For those of you with young children, see the post of "jeremy green" as a lesson of the dangers of giving children under 12 unsupervised use of a computer with internet access.

    Posted by TD May 6, 08 03:25 PM
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  1. Beware Celtic fans. The classless Cav fans will over run your blogs talking how great they are, And how much you suck. It's a shame to have a legit star like LBJ in a city of complete classless people. Good luck Celts hope you guys sweep.

    Posted by the pain full truth May 6, 08 03:31 PM
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  1. KG is not an MVP. Also, his former team didn't get better after he left. And I'll bet Zsa Zsa was more sore the next day than Arroyo.

    Posted by td May 6, 08 03:35 PM
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  1. Mr Wilbur -

    I have never been a fan of any of your writing, but this one really is mind-numbing. You blatantly stole this story from an espn.com writer. His piece was posted on May 5 and yours is conveniently posted May 6. You are an embarassment to the Globe. You are a joke....please consider writing pieces that are original and actually make a point. I can always count on you to make me feel dumber after reading one of your entries.

    Posted by donny marshall uconn95 May 6, 08 03:43 PM
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  1. A better analogy would be KG being the next Julius Erving (before the 76ers won it all) or even Elgin Baytor -- if you're looking for a great, championship-less player.

    This, alas, would have required some depth and knowlegde of NBA history -- something in shorter supply hereabouts than ever, I'm afraid.

    Posted by ben pike May 6, 08 03:58 PM
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  1. The thing that makes A-Rod the biggest CWTBO of all time is what he gets paid. KG is by no means the highest paid player in his sport, nor is he ever signed to the longest contracts, and he doesn't act like he's god's gift to his sport. He knows he's part of a team and that's the way to win. That said, it's hardly an apples to apples comparison.

    Posted by Alyssa May 6, 08 04:18 PM
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  1. KG's playoff averages when he led Minny to the Western Conference Finals in 2004 (18 games):

    43.5 minutes
    24.3 points
    14.6 rebounds
    5.1 assists
    2.3 blocks
    1.3 steals

    If that is choking then apparently I just haven't been paying attention.

    Posted by MRF May 6, 08 04:26 PM
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  1. Some people here don't seem to understand what a BLOG is. Mr. Wilbur, you are doing your job just fine. Conversation has been spawned.

    Posted by Bob May 7, 08 07:54 AM
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