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Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Garnett steals the win from Cleveland

By Chris Forsberg

It's no secret how good Kevin Garnett is defending the pick-and-roll, but it deserves special attention this morning because his efforts Tuesday night in Cleveland pretty much willed Boston to victory.

The Cavaliers were in a quality position leading by a point, with the ball, and under a minute to play in the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, Cleveland wanted to get rookie star Kyrie Irving going to the basket off the pick-and-roll, but Garnett essentially wouldn't allow it. Twice he blew up pick-and-roll attempts with Antawn Jamison, then stuck with the speedy Irving as he tried to make a dash down the lane, using his length to force a steal when Irving attempted to kick the ball back out to Jamison.

A handful of freeze frames from Garnett's effort on the play (CSN Screenshots):

KG defense

(Top left) Garnett hedges high on the right side to prevent an initial attempt at a drive; (bottom left) Garnett steps up to prevent Jamison from even getting in position to set the pick on Rondo on a second attempt; (top right) Irving decides to drive anyway and has the speed to get by most, but Garnett shuffles along with him and Paul Pierce creeps up from the blocks to ensure Irving won't drive to the rim; (bottom right) Irving tries to kick the ball back to Jamison, but Garnett's too big and gets an arm on it forcing the steal. Garnett then fed a streaking Ray Allen the other way for the go-ahead layup with 48.6 seconds left.

Garnett wasn't done either. He chased down his own miss in the final seconds and hit a pair of free throws to help ensure the triumph. But it was the pick-and-roll defense that truly won the game for Boston.

For the season, Garnett is allowing 0.504 points per play defending the pick-and-roll, according to Synergy Sports data. He ranks in the 94th percentile in the league (but if you tighten up the minimum number of plays to 50, he is second only to only Philadephia's Spencer Hawes). Opponents are shooting a mere 23.1 percent against Garnett in those situations and turn the ball over 14.1 percent of the time.

Nearly 40 percent of Irving's total plays this season have come off the pick-and-roll and he averages a solid 0.823 points per play (70th percentile). But Garnett essentially ensured that the Cavaliers couldn't go to their bread-and-butter play when it mattered most with his active defense.

It's a reminder of what Tom Thibodeau said in ESPN the Magazine's profile of Garnett this month: "He's got the awareness of what the other team is trying to get to and how to disrupt it." To which Garnett's pick-and-roll defense is noted and Steve Nash adds, ""He's one of the best ever. He anticipates and takes up a ton of space."

It's just another friendly reminder of the impact Garnett has on the game with his defense. Boston might be on a six-game losing streak without it.