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The key to the kingdom

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff February 26, 2009 05:58 AM

Kevin Garnett felt a twinge in his knee, and it was almost as if the Celtics’ season came to a crashing halt. An entire following gasped. The C’s have come a long way since this time two years ago, since the reign of Al Jefferson, but they are going nowhere this year without the incomparable KG.

The Celtics can win in the short term, mind you. Monday’s win at Denver improved their record without Garnett to 5-0 this season and 14-2 since the start of last season. Those are numbers the Celtics should be proud of. But for all that the team has endured in the absence of its true leader, no one should be deluded into thinking it’s a championship-caliber team without the man who makes it tick.

Entering Monday’s lopsided win over the Nuggets, the Celtics had allowed 102.3 points per game without Garnett this season, a mere 91.5 with him. Opponents were shooting at nearly a 47 percent clip from the floor. Sans KG, the Celtics transformed themselves from rough-and-tumble masters of the Eastern Conference to virtual roadrunners from the West, and we all know how far that kind of play will take you come playoff time. In the interim, do not underestimate the impact of losing Garnett for any stretch of the regular season, no matter how short. The Celtics of 2007-08 posted far and away the best record in the NBA, a feat that earned them home-court advantage throughout the postseason. They exploited that advantage from the first round of the playoffs through the last, going 13-1 in 14 playoff games at the TD Banknorth Garden. Without home court, they might not have survived the Atlanta Hawks.

This year, the fight for home court looks like a struggle to the end. Entering Tuesday, in the race for the NBA’s best record, the Celtics trailed the Cleveland Cavaliers by one game in the loss column, the Los Angeles Lakers by two. The C’s signed Mikki Moore and were on the verge of adding Stephon Marbury to shore up their most obvious deficiencies throughout this season — a big man and a backup point guard — but none of it will mean anything if they do not have a healthy Garnett.

And, perhaps, if they do not have home court.

Meanwhile …
>> Given the strength of the Atlantic Coast Conference, along with wins over Duke and North Carolina, Boston College should be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. And although the unpredictable Eagles lost to Harvard after beating UNC, ask yourself this:

If you’re a high seed, do you really want to play them?

>> Anyone who knows Alex Rodriguez recognizes that he can come across as phony as a $3 bill, and the truth is that he doesn’t seem comfortable in his own skin. Frequently, you cannot help but wonder if Rodriguez knows himself at all. But those who believe Rodriguez is any way malicious or mean-spirited, as dastardly as Barry Bonds, have no idea what they’re talking about.

A-Rod is frustrating, as well as emotionally and psychologically damaged.

But he’s not a bad guy.

>> By the way, if you get into a discussion with Jason Varitek about Rodriguez, be sure you refer to Rodriguez as “Alex.” That whole “A-Rod” thing seems to get under Varitek’s skin.

>> Obviously, the Bruins could use another scorer and a defenseman. When you get right down to it, they basically have the same needs the Celtics do, albeit in different terms.

>> For a moment, let’s try to apply the Red Sox philosophy to the Patriots and the Matt Cassel situation. Let’s say that you think Tom Brady has three to five good years left, and Cassel has eight to 10. If those were absolute truths, wouldn’t it make sense for the Pats to explore trading Brady and keeping Cassel rather than the other way around?

Of course, if the Pats think Kevin O’Connell is their Steve Young, they can keep Brady and have the best of both worlds.

Which brings us to this: On some level, don’t you think that Bill Belichick would just love to win a Super Bowl with someone other than Brady?

Now, that would be a story.

>> Can’t help it, but I still think Jed Lowrie looks a little like Duckie from Pretty in Pink.

>> Still trying to figure out why Pedro Martinez would even remotely consider pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he had some exchanges prior to spring training. Barring a deal with a potential contender, the only team that makes sense for Martinez is the Florida Marlins, because of their proximity to his native Dominican Republic.

Beyond that, Pedro should retire and start preparing his speech for induction at Cooperstown in 2014.

>> Terry Francona, the front office, and the players get most of the credit, but the Red Sox have a fabulous coaching staff, from pitching coach John Farrell to Dave Magadan (hitting) to Brad Mills (bench), Gary Tuck (bullpen), Tim Bogar (first base), and DeMarlo Hale (third base). Not one even comes close to being a self-promoter, which goes a long way toward winning the players’ trust.

>> Dark-horse picks to be factors in their divisions this year are the Cleveland Indians and Florida Marlins, not necessarily in that order. But no predictions become official until Opening Day, so we reserve the right to change our minds.

>> Welcome back, Tiger Woods. Maybe it is a coincidence, but American has gone into a tailspin during your absence.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti

1 comments so far...
  1. Geeze Mazz, pessimistic much? the C's are 5 and 1 this year in games without KG if I'm not mistaken. Granted this loss to the Clippers last night was less than ideal, to put it mildly, but I think that had more to do with the long road trip than anything else. The make up of this team is such that no one individual will win or lose for them. I really don't see the point in perpetuating the whole "the sky is falling" mentality except to create a story where one really doesn't exist. If KG was our only superstar ala the Cleveland Caveliers, that would be a different story. We lost KG for a period last year too and that turned out just fine, right? Stop trying to put everyone into a panick, it's tired and Boston sports fans don't need any help doing that anyhow.... we do just fine with that all on our own.

    Posted by gosox33 February 26, 09 12:40 PM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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