Jackie MacMullan

Garnett return? Give it a rest

Email|Print| Text size + By Jackie MacMullan
Globe Columnist / February 7, 2008

Kevin Garnett sat out his fifth straight game last night because of an abdominal strain.

Most of you undoubtedly consider that bad news.

Not me. I say it's a promising development. If I were running the Celtics, I'd make sure Garnett remained in his cocoa sweater and chocolate brown slacks until after the All-Star break.

KG is a gamer, an old-school baller who has always insisted on soldiering on with most injuries. That's reason alone to make sure he doesn't aggravate this one, similar to that which ended the career of Hall of Famer Jerry West. Abdominal strains are not something you should play through. If aggravated, they can become debilitating very quickly. Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge need to save Garnett from himself.

Think about it. What's the one thing that could throw a wrench into the plans of a team that is playing and acting like a contender? Easy. A significant injury to Garnett, Ray Allen, or Paul Pierce. The only drawback to the reconfiguration of the Celtics from a bunch of likable, affable young players who couldn't win to a group of hungry, frustrated, focused veterans who plan on winning now was whether a trio of guys who are 31, 32, and 30 years old could stay healthy.

Garnett has never suffered a major injury in 12 seasons, and we're talking about someone who has averaged 38-plus minutes a night and plays harder than just about any current superstar in the NBA. The highest total of games KG has missed in a season because of injury is six - in 2005-06, when he sat out the final half-dozen with knee tendinitis. Last season, Garnett missed one game because of a league suspension and five games with a strained quadriceps.

Until this injury, he had missed a grand total of 22 games in his career.

In other words, this cautionary approach is new territory for Garnett. He said last night he has "gotten better every day," but moments later conceded this injury has affected him in ways he did not imagine.

"You don't know how many movements are affected throughout your core, in your abdomen area," Garnett said. "Everything from coughing to sneezing to laughing and moving around to tossing and turning in bed at night. So it's been difficult. But I'm getting better."

In the Clippers' locker room, point guard (and Celtics wannabe) Sam Cassell spoke from experience. He missed nearly three weeks last season with an abdominal strain and said it was one of the most frustrating injuries he's had.

"It's tricky," Cassell said. "You feel it right away. No matter what you do, how you move, it hurts. You have to be patient with it."

Former Celtics forward Michael Smith, now a Clippers broadcaster, said he missed 2 1/2 weeks with an abdominal strain while playing in Europe.

"It was brutal," Smith said. "I couldn't move my arm. I couldn't run right. I couldn't extend. I couldn't do anything.

"I waited about a week and then I felt great, so I went back to practice. The first time I went up for a rebound, I was back where I started again. Tell KG to take his time."

Easier said than done. Boston is 3-2 without Garnett after last night's 111-100 win over the Clippers, and KG said he's having trouble watching. His absence was apparent Tuesday night in Cleveland, where the Celtics gave up 114 points in a loss to the Cavaliers. From the start, Garnett has set the tone defensively for this team, and consistently has been the most vocal leader on the floor.

Garnett refused to put a timetable on his return. He reported he did some leg lifts while lying on his back the other day, and labeled that "huge, huge, huge progress for me." He's done some light running and continues to receive treatment. He said that in the past, he's been able to "manipulate" injuries with ice, tape, or extra padding, but added, "This is totally different."

"I'm trying to be smart," he said. "In the past, I've looked at some of my injuries as, 'I've been hurt.' This is an injury. This is when I make a certain movement, I have to stop in my tracks."

The timing of Garnett's injury is regrettable. The Celtics play in Minnesota tomorrow, and if you think that's just another game on the docket for this proud young man, who gave his heart and soul to the Timberwolves for more than a decade, then you haven't been paying attention.

Boston follows up with a home game Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs, an excellent test to see if the best of the East is on par with one of the elite teams in the West.

Is it tempting to play in those games? Sure. But unnecessary just the same. The Celtics have already proven they are for real through 46 games of this still young season. KG, Pierce, and Allen have definitively answered questions about whether they could mesh, and their teammates have answered the call regarding whether the so-called "supporting cast" is up to the task.

The Celtics, with or without Garnett, will maintain the best record in the East at the break. And while it would be fun to see Garnett in Celtics green for the first time at an All-Star Game, look at it this way: If he pulls out, there's a good chance the commissioner will recognize the need to add another Boston player, thereby punching Allen's ticket to New Orleans.

I asked both Ainge and Rivers why they haven't shut down KG until after the All-Star break. Both responded their star is taking it "day to day."

Some further digging, however, makes me confident in saying this: Don't expect to see Garnett back in uniform until Feb. 19, when the Celtics start their Western swing in Denver.

By then, Boston's top dog will be chomping at the bit. And by then, he won't hurt himself if he tugs on the leash.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at

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