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Celtics need Garnett to reappear

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  May 28, 2010 02:54 PM

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Lost in all the agita and anger about and discussion and dissection of Dwight Howard's errant elbows, Kendrick Perkins incorrigible on-court decorum, odious officiating in Orlando and just how this series ended up morphing from fait accompli to possible NBA history is a very simple question: Where has Kevin Garnett gone?

As the Celtics' commanding three-games-to-none lead in the Eastern Conference finals has faded like an old t-shirt, so has Garnett. He has not looked like the same resurgent and at times dominant force that he was in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The intensity and effort are there as always -- you can never, ever question that with Garnett and that has been the case since he left Farragut Academy in 1995 -- but the output and impact are not.

The Green need Garnett to recycle his stellar play from earlier in the playoffs or the Celtics could be headed back to the Magic Kingdom and the sophomoric in-game antics of Amway Arena for an apocalyptic Game 7. A big game from the Big Ticket is the Celtics' pass to the NBA Finals and past Orlando.

Entering the conference finals, Garnett was averaging 17.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game in the playoffs, while shooting 53.9 percent from the floor. He eviscerated Antawn Jamison in the Cleveland series, scoring at least 18 points in all six games, capped by 22 and 12 boards in the Game 6 series finale. Pre-Magic, his lowest scoring game of the playoffs was 14 points. That's his best effort against Orlando.

In five games against Orlando, No. 5 is averaging 10.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, while connecting on a woeful 37.1 percent of his shots. Whether it's his bothersome knee, playoff fatigue or an ill-timed cold streak, KG has not been the same.

At this stage of his career, Garnett is first and foremost a jump-shooter. He has evolved into a master of the step-out jumper, the pick and pop, and the turnaround J. His drives to the hoop and alley-oops have been curtailed by age and injury. Garnett's proclivity for jumpers is both foreboding and reassuring for Game 6. Jump shooters can go into horrific slumps, but they can just as easily come out of them. Just ask Ray Allen.

Let me be clear, Garnett is not the reason the Celtics are suddenly in a must-win Game 6. There are many, starting with pick and roll defense, and Jameer Nelson kicking his game into gear. I'm not putting the blame on KG's bald pate and broad shoulders. But just like they needed one big game from a struggling Paul Pierce to close out Cleveland, they need one vintage performance from Garnett to vanquish the Magic, and they haven't gotten it yet.

Garnett has been metaphorically banging his head against the basket support on the offensive end all series long.

The Celtics won both of the first two games of this series without Garnett shooting well, and Game 3 was all about balance. In that game, Garnett was an efficient 4 of 6 from the field and had 10 points, one of six Celtics to score in double-figures in a 23-point rout. But the last two games the Celtics have lost and Garnett has been nowhere to be found on the offensive end. He is 10 of 26 from the floor and has scored 14 points and 10 points, respectively.

It looked like Garnett might get going in Game 4 after he was elbowed in the face by Howard and picked up a technical. However, his 14-point performance in that game was a little deceiving because Garnett was 0-4 from the floor with three turnovers in the fourth quarter and overtime after a 5 for 8 start.

There is one main reason that Garnett's lack of offensive production has gone unnoticed or unscrutinized until now. His Orlando counterpart at power forward, Rashard Lewis, had been a complete no-show until recently. Lewis lit up the Celtics to the tune of 20.4 points per game in last year's playoff series, but due to Garnett's great defense and a viral infection Lewis was 6 of 24 in the first three games, before scoring 13 and 14 points in Orlando's two wins.

Before this series the most common refrain when making a case for why the Celtics would beat the defending Eastern Conference-champion Magic was that this time they'd have the services of Garnett. Orlando was the team that dispatched the Celtics last season in the second-round, embarrassing them on their home floor in Game 7.

It was the first time the Celtics had ever lost a playoff series when leading 3-2; the progeny of the parquet had been 32-0 in such situations. But the one came with a seven-foot asterisk -- Garnett. Instead of on the court, he was in couture watching from the bench.

Now, the Magic could make unwanted Boston basketball history again, this time with Garnett in tow.

The good news for the Celtics is that the last two times the Celtics with Garnett have been in this situation -- 3-2, playing a close-out game at home -- Garnett has answered the bell. Game 6 against the Lakers in 2008, Garnett had a performance so sublime that the 26 points and 14 rebounds he put up don't even begin to due justice to the defining game of his Hall of Fame career.

More recently, Garnett was exquisite in eliminating the LeBrons, as he had 22 points, 12 rebounds and no turnovers. He started the game by hitting his first four shots -- all jumpers -- and set the tone to send the Cavaliers home.

The Magic have clearly rediscovered their shooting touch, and now it's time for Garnett to do the same.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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