The first thing I thought of when I heard the news about KG this morning were those four games in March. I wondered how many people–how much brain power–were involved in the making the call to play him in those games, how nervous the Celtics were about making the injury worse, what the competing points of view were and whether Garnett’s mattered.
I wonder about those four games. Considering what we know now, he looked great in the first three. He was running the floor, checking Tony Parker on defense and hopping around like a man possessed–just like always. And then in that fourth game, against Orlando, you could tell, even watching on TV, that something was wrong. He scored four points and pulled down eight boards in 17 minutes, but something was wrong. Rashard Lewis was scoring buckets over and around KG inside.
I’m not saying the Celtics rushed him back. I’m more curious about what exactly the Celtics knew about Garnett’s injury. Ask yourself this right now: What is Garnett’s injury? Do you even know? It was first described as a posterior muscle strain–a strain of the muscle behind KG’s right knee. ESPN’s story today calls it a strained tendon. Bob Ryan, in pronouncing the championship out of reach, is still referring to it as a “sprain”–with sprain deliberately in quotation marks. The Herald is calling it a strained muscle/tendon, whatever that is. The Globe says it’s a strain of the popliteus tendon.
So, again: What is wrong Kevin Garnett’s knee? Did the Celtics ever really know? Was it just a matter of saying, “Well, it’s nothing structural, so let’s play him and see if the pain is just too much?”
Simmons is right: What is wrong with Kevin Garnett’s knee is that it has been involved in more than 1,100 basketball games played at peak intensity levels. From 1996-97 to 2006-07, KG’s last season in Minnesota, he had 10 straight seasons in which he averaged at least 37.9 minutes per game. He played at least 81 games in seven of those seasons.
And that was the deal when the Celtics signed him. That’s the deal the team made, and that’s the deal we made as fans. We knew when Garnett arrived that he was 31 and entering his 13th season in the NBA, joining two other stars on the wrong side of 30. We knew there was a chance that by the 2012-13 season, the Big Three would be gone–retired, traded, allowed to walk–while Al Jefferson would be racking up 25 and 11 every night in Minnesota. This core had three seasons to get it done, maybe four if they could convince Ray Allen to re-sign on the cheap after 2010. After that? Gulp. It was up to Danny Ainge (get well, Danny) to rebuild, either through shrewdly unloading the Big Three as their contracts expired, or letting them expire, getting under the cap (really only possible after the 2011 season, if even then) and making some smart free agent signings. Either that, or things could get ugly again.
That was the deal: Go for broke now, scramble as best as possible to secure the future. And it worked: We got to enjoy Banner 17. Now we are suffering the more unpleasant consequences of the deal.
As for the playoffs, this is still going to be fun, even if this team can’t win a title–and I think we all know it can’t. One aside: Sorry Laker fans, but losing KG means a lot more to the Celtics than losing Andrew Bynum did to LA. Yes their numbers are similar, but if you think that makes them equally valuable to their teams, you just don’t understand basketball. Andrew Bynum has a neutral effect on the Lakers performance, according to 82games.com. Does that mean he’s an average player? Of course not–he’s a very, very good player. The Lakers can win without him in part because they are deeper than Boston up front and in part because Bynum doesn’t change the entire complexion of a team the way Garnett does.
The Celtics are giving up ten more points per game without KG in the line-up this season. Ten!
But the Celtics team that remains works hard, and it can still play very good defense. It will start three All-Star level players, and the role players have emerged this season as solid, valuable contributors. This team can get to the Eastern Conference Finals. It could take a game or two from Cleveland. That, unfortunately, is probably the ceiling.
There is a part of me that cringes at the thought of Paul Pierce playing 40 minutes a game in a playoff season that has very little chance, if any, of ending in a championship. It seems like a waste. We’ve seen this season that a basketball player only has so many seasons before his body begins to fall apart. The pragmatic fan in me doesn’t want to see Paul Pierce killing himself for the right to lose to Cleveland. But I understand that is not how basketball works, so I will root like hell for Pierce to continuing cementing his legacy as a Celtic legend.
(Note: I don’t feel the same fear about Ray Allen, the oldest of the Big Three. He seems somehow indestructible, like he could run and shoot till he’s 50).
This team will live up to the Celtic tradition in terms of effort and will. And hopefully, they won’t do any lasting damage to themselves in the process.
So get well, KG. The window will still be open next year (barring injury).