After two unexceptional performances in Miami, Kevin Garnett owned the Heat in Boston in Game 3.
Kevin Garnett looked gassed during the two games in Miami. He offered his teammates his typically reliable screens. But when the action was on the other side of the floor, Garnett spent much his time at 19 feet, hanging out on the perimeter waiting for the rock to find him for a face-up jumper. In the two games, he scored 22 points on 11-for-29 shooting, without a trip to the stripe.
Garnett is a player fueled by emotion as much as precision. While the latter was disrupted by an active defensive performance by the Heat's big men and helpers, the lack of gusto seemed uncharacteristic from a player driven by intensity.
On Saturday night in Boston, Garnett returned with a vengeance. He led all scorers with 28 points, draining 13 of 20 shot attempts from the field and doing it in a variety of ways.
Asked to assess the power forward who tormented his front line in Game 3, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra found an apt comparison.
"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," Spoelstra said. "That’s what it reminds me of, he’s too proud of a player, talk about an MVP, one of the best players in this league, as soon as he stepped on the court as a rookie 14 years ago. For the revisionist out there, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when everyone threw dirt on him in the Final against Boston, he came out the next night and had 37 and 15. And while all this fuel was going on the last three days, I was cringing because you know this is a proud group, and you knew they would have a response which is fine."
Garnett brandished Jabaar-like authority in Game 3, and those 13 field goals can be classified in a few different groupings:
(first quarter, 10:35)
The Heat have been trapping ball handlers aggressively since the outset of the postseason and have been successful doing so, but Garnett compromised that strategy in a number of ways on Saturday.
On the first of these two possessions -- less than two minutes into the game -- the Celtics are in motion and move the ball around the floor. When the ball ends up in the hands of Jermaine O'Neal at the top of the floor, Garnett sets a firm down screen at the right elbow for Paul Pierce, who makes a "zipper cut" from the right block up to the perimeter.
LeBron James is a big, strong dude, but he can't get around Garnett's screen. Chris Bosh wisely switches out on Pierce, but rather than stick on Garnett, LeBron decides to pursue Pierce once he fights through Garnett. By that time, KG is rolling hard to the rim. Pierce finds him there. Neither the slow-footed Mike Bibby nor Zydrunas Ilgauskas can make the rotation. Easy slam for Mr. Garnett.
(third quarter, 5:24)
The Celtics have a side-outta-bounds play, but the set has a nearly identical result with a nearly identical error by the Heat. After Pierce inbounds the ball from the right sideline, he reclaims it from O'Neal at the top of the floor. Garnett is right there to pin down LeBron, as the two-time MVP tries to fight through KG to follow Pierce from right to left along the arc.
Again, Bosh makes the right play, but again LeBron fights through the screen rather than hold back and pick up Garnett. This leaves KG wide open from 20 feet. Pierce makes the easy pass, and Garnett sinks the easy jumper.
Poor Joel Anthony
(third quarter, 7:32), (third quarter, 3:24), (third quarter, 2:47)Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE
Joel Anthony had a fantastic night, but got beat off the dribble by Kevin Garnett.
On a career night for Anthony, it pains us to have to highlight the only failures in his game. But in a span of five minutes, Garnett devours Anthony off the dribble three times.
There's very little variance to these three possessions. Three times, Garnett fights for and establishes position on the left block against the smaller Anthony. On the first, Garnett drives middle, then flicks in a hook shot.
On the second, Anthony is anticipating another drive to the middle and plays Garnett's left shoulder. Like any crafty vet, Garnett opts baseline. With a wicked spin move, Garnett again finishes with the right-handed hook shot.
Drive No. 3: Anthony is trying like hell to deny the entry pass from Allen in the left corner, but Allen finds the perfect angle for a bounce pass to KG, who is quite deep. A little shake, then a spin, then the hook from Garnett. Anthony doesn't have a prayer.
Thank you, Jermaine O'Neal!
(second quarter, 4:09)
Garnett hangs out deep on the left wing, practically in the corner, with O'Neal in front of him on the left block. Meanwhile, Delonte West holds the ball in the right corner, miles from Garnett. As a result, the Heat bigs have drifted toward the strong side of the floor.
The ball reverses to Rajon Rondo at the top of the floor, who doesn't hesitate darting a pass to Garnett. With the Heat's bigs cheating, O'Neal pins down not one, but both Heat big men -- Bosh and Anthony.
This leaves Garnett wide open for a baseline 18-footer. String music.
(third quarter, 11:55)
Coming out of the locker room following intermission, the wily Celtics run a stellar misdirection play. On the left side of the floor, Rondo fakes a handoff to Pierce, who's moving right to left along the arc. This prompts the Heat, again, to cheat toward the ball side of the floor.
Then, it's deja vu all over again. O'Neal pins down both Heat big men -- this time it's Bosh and Ilgauskas. Garnett fades to 20 feet, where he receives the pass from Rondo and drains the open jumper.
Exploiting the mismatch
(second quarter, 8:57)
The Celtics execute another smart side-outta-bounds play. Allen inbounds from the right sideline to Rondo at the top of the floor. Garnett darts immediately from the right side directly at Rondo's defender, Mario Chalmers. With Rondo dribbling right, Chalmers is stuck with Garnett as KG slips the screen and dives hard to the hoop.
Rondo lobs a pass over Chalmers' head that finds Garnett directly beneath the rim. James Jones rotates nicely, but Garnett takes a couple of dribbles backwards and launches a fadeaway jumper over his shorter defenders from about 9 feet.
(fourth quarter, 4:59)
The game is well in hand at this point. Garnett sets up on the right block, but moves across the floor to set a screen for West. Initially, he posts up Anthony, but then hands the ball off to West.
Then, KG and West go dancing. As West retraces his path, dribbling uphill, Garnett posts Wade, who had been guarding West.
Similar to the possession in the second quarter, Garnett seals off Wade. West lobs the pass over Wade, and Garnett finishes at close range with a bank-shot layup.
(first quarter, 6:34)
Garnett picks up a potpourri of other buckets.
Bosh defends him well in the first quarter on the right block. Garnett tries to drive baseline, but there's nowhere to go against Bosh, so KG spins middle. Bosh stays with him, but Garnett elevates and hits the contested jumper. Sound defense, tough shot -- but it's Garnett's night.
(second quarter, 3:35)
Dislocated elbow and all, Rondo finishes with 11 assists, and this one results from his dribble penetration. Rondo turns the corner courtesy of a screen from Pierce. As he does, the Heat's defense -- including Anthony -- collapses on the speedy guard. This leaves Garnett wide, wide open from 20 feet. Rondo pitches the ball to Garnett, who nails the jumper.
(third quarter, 11:19)
Off a Bosh miss, the Celtics are off to the races on the break. Big men are taught to run directly to the rim in transition and Garnett, with approximately 73 years of experience as a big man, does just that. He beats both Bosh (who is still on the floor after tumbling) and Ilgauskas down the court (go figure), seals off the Heat's starting center and awaits the pass from Rondo. Another easy 2.