CLEVELAND - Kevin Garnett smoldered with intensity from the moment he took the floor at Quicken Loans Arena last night for Game 6 against the Cavaliers to the moment he left the building, his Celtics smarting from a 74-69 setback that stretched this Eastern Conference semifinal to a seventh game.
"He was locked in early and he's probably even locked in right now," James Posey said afterward. "It was a pretty bitter taste in our mouth, for him and for everybody else. We got to leave everything out there and give ourselves a chance to win the game."
There was so much that seemed to frustrate Garnett. There was the prayer of a 3-pointer Delonte West drained over his outstretched hand as the buzzer sounded at the end of the first half. There was the superb defensive effort that went for naught after the Celtics held the Cavaliers to 32.9 percent shooting (24 of 73). There was the 13-0 third-quarter rally he helped fuel that enabled the Celtics to whittle a 16-point deficit to 3 (51-48).
But Garnett's greatest frustration stemmed from the opportunity the Celtics squandered, as they failed to snap a five-game road skid in the playoffs and close out this series.
"There's a lot of things that were frustrating," said Garnett, who led the Celtics with 25 points and eight rebounds. "Obviously, we held a team to a pretty decent percentage, as far as shooting. I think second quarter they were like something weird [5 for 15 from the floor], but it's what it is. It's Game 7, and we've got to win at home now."
It appeared the Cavaliers had buried the Celtics when West buried a 16-foot jumper that gave Cleveland a 16-point lead, 51-35, with 8:37 left in the third quarter. But Garnett refused to let the Celtics get run out of the building, hitting 3 of 8 shots in that period.
After Paul Pierce knocked down a 3-pointer to spark the 13-0 rally, Garnett hit a 21-footer that made it 51-40; a 16-foot bank shot over Ben Wallace that cut it to 51-41; and a stepback 18-footer that made it 51-45 and set the stage for Pierce's trey, which pulled the Celtics within 51-48.
"KG came out with a lot of energy tonight," said Kendrick Perkins. "I thought he played well. I thought all our guys played well and played hard tonight."
Asked what proved to be the difference, Garnett replied, "A lot of things. Offensive rebounding didn't help. I thought second quarter the ball stopped moving a bit, but the middle of the third [quarter] we got the rhythm back. Good teams, you can't spot 'em points, especially on the road, because it's too hard to come back."
But what probably stuck in Garnett's craw was how close the Celtics came in the fourth quarter, only to have several chances slip away. Trailing, 65-60, Garnett missed a 20-foot jumper from the baseline that he otherwise would have made with his eyes closed. Then, after an Eddie House 3-pointer cut it to 69-63 with 3:44 left, Garnett committed the 15th of Boston's 17 turnovers when he was called for traveling.
Who knew that the team with the best record in the NBA would wind up struggling as much as it has in the playoffs. Garnett knew the path to championship No. 17 would not be a cakewalk.
"Absolutely, absolutely," he said. "There's nothing easy about the playoffs. Nothing."
Garnett was smoldering now. He was eager to get back to Boston to get going again.
"I feed off the home crowd a lot," he said. "Players play better in front of their families, in front of their own fans, their own building. I anticipate the Garden to be rockin'. It's going to be crazy and we've got to feed off that energy and play the game. We got to be in attack mode from jump ball."
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.