This was the ONLY reaction coming out of the disappointing, dispiriting result in Michigan: A loss? It happens. A serious injury to Garnett? It cannot happen, not if the Celtics are to have any realistic chance of bringing an 18th NBA title to Boston.
We still don’t know the extent of Garnett’s injury. X-rays were negative and it appears to be muscular in nature. But two things immediately jump out, and neither is good for Celtics Nation.
First, the injury was to the right leg -- the same leg Garnett hurt in the 2008-09 season, which eventually required surgery. The Celtics said Wednesday's injury was a lower leg injury, which may not technically mean the knee; for KG’s sake, let's hope that is the case. The other more unnerving thing about the incident was that there was no contact. Garnett did it to himself. Just like he did in Utah a couple of years ago.
There was no landing awkwardly on another player’s foot. There was no shoving or pushing. KG went up unmolested for a dunk and appeared to hurt the knee on the takeoff. No one was near him. That is not a good sign. And, let’s not forget, there are a lot of miles on the Garnett body, so any injury is cause for concern.
We may know in the next day or two whether this injury is short-term. The Celtics cannot be serious championship contenders without Garnett. He anchors their defense. He holds others accountable. And when the Celtics are at their best, they are playing stifling, smothering defense.
“When Kevin is not on the floor, it doesn’t just affect his man -- it affects our entire defense,’’ coach Doc Rivers said.
KEVIN GARNETT II
What made this injury so depressing was that it came out of nowhere. Literally. Not only was Garnett hurt on a play where no one touched him, he had been the paradigm of health all season. He had not missed a game in the first 29 games (along with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, as well.) He had looked frisky, active -- more like the Garnett of three years ago than the one last year who hobbled through the regular season before finding his legs (sort of) in the playoffs. He was among the top 15 in the NBA in rebounding and was once again leading the Celtics’ defense, which is among the best in the NBA.
It may be just a coincidence that the Pistons shot well above 50 percent in this one. And that they collected 27 assists. Or it may be that they sensed what all of us sensed what KG went down -- that the Celtics aren’t the same team when he’s not on the floor.
KEVIN GARNETT III
Garnett’s injury, coming in the first quarter, put an end to one of the pregame storyline of the night: the rematch with Charlie Villanueva. The two had had words the last time the Celtics came through Auburn Hills (the word “cancer” was tossed around, stupidly, by both players) and there was one scene Wednesday night when Villanueva bumped into Garnett when he didn’t have to.
Villanueva finished with 14 points and nailed four three-pointers, many of them back-breakers as the Celtics tried, futilely, to get back into the game. Villanueva was the winner of the ex-UConn star of the night. Teammates Ben Gordon and Rip Hamilton played supporting roles in the victory, scoring 12 and 9 respectively. The Celtics’ Ray Allen scored 12, but he had six turnovers. He was one of two Celtics in double figures. Paul Pierce led Boston with 33, a season high.
MORE BABY TIME? (OR KEVIN GARNETT IV)
Glen Davis already was playing more minutes than he might have envisioned coming into the season. (Remember during training camp when he wondered what his role would be?) Now, he may be thrust into the starting lineup, which means even more time on the floor. By extension, if Baby gets KG’s minutes, that means Jermaine O’Neal is going to have to move out of his inert phase and start being a meaningful, day-to-day contributor. He looked better against the Pistons than he did against the Pacers, when he was a virtual cipher.
This assumes, of course, that Shaq can continue to start and absorb minutes and fouls the way he usually does. It also means Semih Erden has to re-enter the picture. He was a big part of the Celtics’ fast start, giving Boston valuable minutes off the bench. But he hasn’t played since Dec. 22 against the Philadelphia 76ers, and the report from the Pistons game was that he had an upper respiratory infection.
BAD LOSS, BAD TEAM, BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Three of the Celtics’ six losses this season have been to bad teams: Cleveland, Toronto and now Detroit. The 12-point spread to the Pistons represented the largest margin of defeat for the Celtics this season. (Consider that the Lakers entered Wednesday coming off three straight losses of 15 points or more.) That indicates how competitive Boston has been all season.
Yes, the Celtics have thrown away some games in the course of their terrific start. But they had been in every game they’ve played until the Pistons contest. They can look into the mirror in this one. They turned it over 21 times. They allowed Detroit to shoot 55.7 percent, including 66.7 percent from 3-point territory. Teams don’t do that against the Celtics, who unquestionably were affected by Garnett’s injury.
“When Kevin went out, I didn’t think anyone picked up their games,’’ Doc Rivers said. “It took a little steam out of us. ... Their minds were somewhere else. I understand that.”
Of course, we’ve gone this far and not mentioned that the team also did not have Rajon Rondo again. He has missed 10 games, including the past six, but might play Friday against New Orleans.
T-MACK BACK TO THE FUTURE
In a "where did this come from?" performance, Tracy McGrady had one of his best games of the season. TMac finished with 21 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds in 30-plus minutes. At times, he looked sort of like the TMac of yore. The 21 points were a season high for McGrady, who picked up for the unavailable Rodney Stuckey. His previous best was 17 against Toronto on Dec. 22. The Pistons are McGrady’s fifth NBA team following stops in Toronto, Orlando, Houston and New York. Rivers coached McGrady in Orlando, where TMac was an All-Star Game regular. But he hasn’t been in an All-Star Game since 2007 and hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2008. Neither of those streaks appears to be in jeopardy at this point of the season.