Post-game Reactions

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).

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Zach Lowe

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  • Jason

    Disclaimer: I don't have any medical expertise or any knowledge whatsoever of any medical reports, treatments or conversations the C's had regarding KG's knee.

    Still, I do know is his return and diagnosis were constantly moving targets. Then he came back. And went back down again. And his return and diagnosis were moving targets again. Now his season is supposedly over.

    Hey, if he blew a tendon, it happens. But this has reeked from the beginning (and seems to have come to pass now) of incompetence and negligent care.

    How many different ways have they screwed this up? One, do they even actually know what's wrong with the knee? If they do know, have they always known or only recently? Was the treatment plan wrong? Was KG not following it? If it could be reinjured so easily, why was he put back out there? Why wasn't he allowed to rest more? Did he lobby to return and if so, are the max contract players making personnel and medical decisions now?

    Seriously, this is like mystery diagnosis. KG is a max contract, franchise player and that franchise happens to be one of the most valuable in the world, but this one knee seems to be more perplexing to their entire staff than some new third-world disease.

    How is there no accountability here? If KG exacerbated this, I throw some blame his way, but he's a professional athlete. They're a competitive group by nature and he's a competitive maniac even compared to them. But the staff, it's their job to diagnose, treat, protect (even from the player himself) and clear only when ready. And almost none of the duties seem to have been fulfilled here. NONE. And a potential championship has been sacrificed as a result. I dumbfounded and as an invested fan, I'm irate. Season -ending injuries happen, but this didn't seem like one of them and we were told it wasn't. Only after this staff mishandled its duties did they turn a 4-week injury into a season-ending, championship-costing one. Someone needs to lose his job. Doctors, trainers, decision-makers, whoever's responsible cannot possibly keep their jobs in this organization.

  • I feel the frustration, Jason, but I it's tough for me to assume the team made a mistake here. KG is a prized asset, and I prefer to assume–and think it's probably true–that they did their absolute best to get the diagnosis right and only put him in those four games because they concluded there was no long-term risk in doing so.

    I suspect whatever setback he suffered would have happened even had they waited until the playoffs to play him. Oh well–to next year!

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  • Zeb

    Celtics fans are arguably the whiniest group in all of sports. The "big 3" gamble paid off early with a championship last year, and now you're paying the piper a little earlier than expected. But it's not like your chances are nil! You've still got a puncher's chance with that lineup. Yet, every C's fan I know is crying about the "horrible luck" they're having, and have practically written off this season! Amazing! Welcome to the real world… sort of. No matter how bad things get, you can look to the rafters and see 17 banners.

    Anyway, the point is, KG is old, and even if you knew exactly what was going on in his knee (and nobody can, even now – see Martin, Kenyon, for perspective on this) you couldn't prevent him being out for this postseason, so deal with it. I know Paul Pierce will.

    And what's more fun? Rooting for the odds-on favorite, or the underdog? Oh, wait, I'm talking to Celtics fans…

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