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Kevin Garnett goes up strong in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers.BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett is vowing to approach the Boston Celtics' Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the Miami Heat the same way he sized up the competition against the Philadelphia 76ers, with the exception of one key detail: He won't hit South Beach with any direct criticisms of the Heat fan base.
"Not at all," Garnett said when asked if he had a message for Miami's fans following Boston's 85-75 Game 7 victory over Philly on Saturday. "You got me with that once, you won't get me twice."
Following the Celtics' victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Philadelphia, Garnett referred to 76er fans as "fair-weather," and he enjoyed an especially cool reception throughout the Celtics' loss in Game 6 from the Philly crowd.
Garnett, though, need not antagonize the ticket holders with his words before he and the Celtics take the floor for Game 1 at AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday. They'll develop a significant enough distaste for him if his play on the court resembles -- or even surpasses -- what he put on display throughout the semifinals against the 76ers.
In seven games against Philadelphia, Garnett averaged a quality double-double of 19.7 points and 11 rebounds, shooting over 50 percent from the field in just under 37 minutes per game. In the pivotal Game 7 on Saturday, he came through with an 18-point, 13-rebound effort, helping to pace Boston's offensive and defensive attack, as the C's escaped in the final minutes and punched their tickets to Miami.
Garnett was routinely one of Boston's primary options on the offensive end, as the C's sought to exploit his matchups with the smaller Elton Brand and an inexperienced rookie, Lavoy Allen. And despite his jump shot not falling with any true consistency on Wednesday in Boston's Game 6 loss, Garnett remained undeterred and continued to fire away from virtually everywhere on the floor on Saturday night.
Garnett's greatest takeaway from Saturday's series finale, though, came on the other side of the ball, where his presence in the paint helped to contain the likes of Brand, Allen, and Spencer Hawes, who finished with a mere four points on 2-of-8 shooting.
"I was more focused on defense tonight," Garnett said. "I knew our assignments as a big. I was trying to make sure the other bigs knew our assignments. We've been slipping on our assignments lately. So, I was more programmed, locked-in a little bit, defensively, than anything. I've been feeling good since the All-Star break, I've been feeling real confident in myself. I don't lack confidence when it comes to my craft and putting the work in for it. I take it very seriously."
Added Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "[Garnett] was huge. I mean, defensively, controlling the paint; [He] made big shots when we had it. I thought they did a really good job of confusing him a little bit on the post. He had a bunch of them where he actually had post-ups, but he was looking for traps and they were not coming. And then when they trapped, I mean, they had him off-balance a little bit. You could see him at halftime giving himself one of those self-talks. And you know, the talk obviously went well."
Garnett finished 7-of-17 from the field, but scored the first baskets for Boston in the third and fourth quarters, added another tough jump shot from the left wing with nine minutes left, which put Boston up by seven at the time, and helped to seal things by hitting one of two free throws with just under a minute remaining.
While he'll spend his Sunday reprogramming his brain for the Heat, Garnett might be left wondering who his chief defender will be, particularly if Chris Bosh can't return from an abdominal strain. The most likely candidates are Joel Anthony, Ronny Turiaf, and Udonis Haslem -- three players Garnett should relish the opportunity to go up against, particularly down on the block.
"I know how to play this game, so nothing's different from that," said Garnett. "I'm going to play the series coming up the same way, probably more aggressive. I don't, obviously, know how they're going to attack us, and vice versa, but tomorrow we'll get our books and prepare. So it should be an interesting series, but I'm feeling fine."
As for feeding Garnett offensively, Ray Allen noted: "He's been our go-to guy. He's been the guy that we've gone to on a consistent basis. We've played around him, played through him, and he's always had the matchup."
The Celtics can only hope that it's an exploitation of his matchup -- and not a verbal sparring with the fans -- that garner Garnett the most headlines against the Heat.