No stranger to in-game stitches, Kevin Garnett didn't even attempt to argue when Celtics trainer Ed Lacerte told him a small gash under his chin sustained in the third quarter of Wednesday's game would need stitches to close up. Instead Garnett sprinted immediately for the tunnel and returned to the locker room for team doctors to patch him up.
Garnett would be absent a mere four minutes of game time before returning to the Boston bench, but with a pair of TV timeouts mixed in before he was able to return to the court, it only felt like an eternity, which had Celtics coach Doc Rivers barking at poor Lacerte wondering what was taking so long to administer five stitches.
Fortunately, when Garnett did return, he came back with a vengeance. Stepping back on the court with 2:24 to play in the third quarter, he aided Boston's 17-4 run to close out the period, producing a 19-foot turnaround right before the buzzer that sent the Celtics into the fourth quarter with a seven-point cushion they'd desperately need to hang on to the win.
Garnett scored nine of his 17 points while playing the final 14:24 of the game. As Rivers surmised, "He was [angry] someone hit him in the mouth."
That someone was Andre Miller, whose head slammed into Garnett's chin with a little more than eight minutes to play in the third quarter. Garnett immediately dabbed at the beard-covered area and, soon after, retreated to the locker room.
For his part, Garnett thought the doctors made good time in patching him up.
"You'd have to talk to the doctors about [the time span]," said Garnett. "Believe me, when Ed told me I needed [stitches], I wasn’t going to sit around and debate with him, so I just took off to the back. It’s a process.
"I got stitched up in Chicago [in April], they were really taking their time, messing around. I had to call my boy [Celtics media relations czar Jeff] Twiss. He came back and quickened them up a bit. I’ve been stitched a couple times, more than a couple, [Wednesday] was record timing."
Even still, Rivers was looking for a doctor to holler at about the pace.
"Whoever did our stitches, we’re going to have to talk," Rivers said with a slight smile. "That’s the longest -- I thought we were on the road. Opposing doctors do that: They can't find the sutures, they take their time. But it did take a long time. I kept checking with Eddie saying, 'What’s going on back there?'"
Fortunately for the Celtics, Shaquille O'Neal held the fort, logging 9:36 in the third quarter as part of 26:24 overall. O'Neal connected on 5-of-7 shots for 14 points with four rebounds and a block. Glen Davis, who checked in for Garnett, also got hot in the third, playing the final 7:47 and hitting all four shots he took for eight points (igniting Boston's late-quarter burst). Davis finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting with seven rebounds.
--INJURY WATCH: RONDO'S HAMSTRING FLARES, NATE'S FOOT ACHES--
While Rivers gave a small dose of positive injury news before the game, noting that Jermaine O'Neal hoped to be back working out as early as next week after missing the last eight games with lingering left knee soreness, Rivers hinted that two of his chief ball-handles were aching in Wednesday's win.
"I left [Rajon] Rondo in because [Nate Robinson's] foot was hurting," said Rivers. "Rondo’s hamstring was starting to get sore and he was worried that, if he came out, he couldn’t return. So the injury thing is really starting to creep up on us a little bit, and it is what it is."
The Celtics will break Thursday after sweeping both ends of a back-to-back that started Tuesday in Cleveland. Boston hosts the Bulls Friday night at the Garden.
Rondo missed three games because of a strained left hamstring, but deemed it a non-issue earlier this week, suggesting his battle with plantar fasciitis was a larger issue. He finished with 10 points and 10 assists over 44:30, but contributed only four points in the second half.
Robinson tweaked his right foot against the Hawks while starting in place of Rondo. During one of his finest offensive performances, Robinson landed awkwardly after hitting a third-quarter 3-pointer and hobbled to the bench. He did not return, but has played in each of the last four games, while getting additional treatment on the foot. Robinson finished with zero points and two assists over 3:33 Wednesday.
--LOOSE BALLS: ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT; NO LOCAL SCOUTING TRIP FOR DOC--
* Rivers wasn't thrilled with how Wednesday's game unfolded -- his team struggled with turnovers early, then nearly gave away a 16-point lead in the final five minutes -- but he'll take the win. "We won. But, really, just not a great game for us. We won the game and we’ll always take the win. There is a concern: I don’t know if that’s ever happened where, you’re shooting 61 percent at halftime, and you’re down one. And we shoot 57 percent for the game and almost threw it away. But we'll take the win."
* Wednesday's game prevented Rivers from jumping across town to see his eldest son, Jeremiah, compete for the Indiana University men's basketball team, which dropped an 88-76 decision to Boston College. Rivers chipped in two points, three assists and two rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench for the Hoosiers.
"We were laughing about it today, [Indiana coach Tom Crean] had told me he was going to get a game here to make sure I had a chance to watch [Jeremiah] play and he said, 'Well, I kind of messed this one up.'"
Rivers seemed unfazed, noting he had sneaked out to Bloomington, Ind., three times already this season to catch some games.
Rivers said he also got to spend quality time with his son on Wednesday morning.
"That would have been really nice [to see the game]," said Rivers. "But I've missed a lot of them. I'll miss another one. Listen, I got to spend a lot of time with him today and that's really good."