Throughout last season, fans, reporters, and teammates often looked at Kevin Garnett in disbelief. How does he do it?
The passion. The energy. The one-step-away-from-“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” mentality that he brought to the court every night.
After he bent down to kiss the Celtics’ midcourt logo following Game 6 of the NBA Finals, you half-expected his head to explode and confetti to spray out to the rafters. Those who knew him best insisted it was no act.
That’s how Garnett is and how he always will be. Early this season, he is picking up right where he maniacally left off in June.
Consult the Manchester, N.H., basketball stanchion Garnett pummeled before a preseason game to see whether he’s mellowed. Ask the Nets, who saw him get down in the “panther stance” to play defense in the backcourt during another exhibition game, whether he’s content.
Even though he’s struggled at times with turnovers and shooting in the first three weeks of the season, his inner inferno hasn’t faded in the slightest. It burned at perhaps its most scorching during the 94-87 comeback victory over the Raptors on Nov. 10, when the listless Celtics — coming off their Eastern Conference finals rematch victory in Detroit — needed a spark, and Garnett pulled out a blowtorch.
“He brought the energy,” said starting frontcourt mate Kendrick Perkins. “That’s what KG does. I had seen his focus before that game. I knew he was going to come out with a lot of energy. He was still gassed up after the game. That’s KG. He’s the sparkplug.”
This was a bit much even by Garnett standards. At least twice, he roused the sold-out Garden crowd to its feet when the Celtics needed a lift, and he even picked up Raptors point guard Jose Calderon full-court in a defensive molestation as the Celtics rallied.
Garnett doesn’t plan his antics. At times he says he doesn’t even remember doing them. He may make a conscious effort to play more in the post, be more aggressive on the glass, or pass out of double teams. The spirit? That comes naturally.
“We prepare each game with high energy,” Garnett said. “We start off slow sometimes, but the energy picks up as the game progresses. That’s what we expect.”
His teammates have certainly come to expect it from Garnett.
“Sometimes you need that from these superstars,” Perkins said. “You see Kevin going on out there getting the crowd riled up, then [Paul Pierce] gets the crowd riled up. Then the energy from the crowd carries over to the court and we play our style of game.”
No rest for the weary
It’s probably just a coincidence, but it’s hard not to feel that the Celtics are being punished for winning their 17th banner with a brutal early-season schedule. They are in the midst of a stretch of eight games in 12 days and play six back-to-back games in November.
“I don’t think there is a good placement for it,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “You could say at the beginning [it’s better] because you have legs, but you’re not ready yet. Then it burns you for later.”
Things will even out. The Celtics have their first three-day break of the season Dec. 8-10 and get six days off around the All-Star break. They play only two back-to-backs in February and March, then have a stretch of four days off early in April.
“It’s here, we’re going through it, and so far so good,” said Rivers, whose team won the first five games of the current gauntlet. “The one thing, as a coach, is that if you’re going to have practice time, you’d rather have it at the beginning of the year than after. Because that’s when you want to fix things. Right now, we have no practice time.”
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Celtics’ 7-1 start is that their offensive numbers are down almost across the board. Even after their big games against Toronto, Pierce was averaging 18.8 points per game and shooting 39.1 percent, Ray Allen was at 15.5 ppg, Garnett at 15.4. The team was shooting just 28.4 percent on 3-pointers. Only Tony Allen (9.9 ppg compared to 6.6 ppg last year) is up statistically.
“The good thing is we are ahead of the curve defensively,” said Pierce. “And that’s what we focus on. We are a defensive team first.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org