Commentary

Kevin Garnett holds it together

Updated: January 27, 2014, 8:01 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Ever the competitor, Kevin Garnett put a towel over his head while Boston Celtics fans roared with appreciation. He didn't want anyone to see him getting emotional.

For six months, Garnett knew the video tribute celebrating his six years in Boston was coming. But sitting in the unfamiliar confines of the visiting locker room at TD Garden, both Garnett and Paul Pierce had joked just a short time before about who would be the first to tear up. Garnett was sure it wouldn't be him.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Garnett hides his face while getting emotional as he's saluted by Celtics fans.

But he felt the emotions surging, the lump forming in his throat. Garnett sought refuge in a white towel not nearly big enough to shield him.

Then came a much-needed save: The Bee Gee's "You Should Be Dancing," a song that served as the soundtrack for Garnett's beloved Gino, the dancer whose smooth moves highlighted an American Bandstand clip that rolled at the end of Boston's lopsided wins (of which there were many during Garnett's tenure).

Excitedly, Garnett looked back up at the video board to find a simple "Thank you, KG!" message, but the words were positioned around an image of KG pointing up at Gino on the JumboTron. The only thing a greedy Garnett could have asked for was to see a little bit of Gino's dancing.

"I had to compose myself before I looked back up, that's why I was kind of putting my head down, threw my towel on, but I thought Gino was going to get cracking," Garnett said with a big smile. "I should have asked [Rajon] Rondo [at dinner on Saturday night], 'Rondo, get them to throw some Gino up tomorrow.' It was all good."

Suggesting his return to Boston was tougher than his first trip back to Minnesota, where he started his NBA odyssey, Garnett detailed his ride on an emotional roller coaster while back at TD Garden on Sunday. But he stressed that, even without Gino, the video tribute and the fans' reaction exceeded even his wildest expectations for coming back.

"This was over the top," Garnett said. Later he added, "What comes to mind is unbelievable, I didn't expect anything like that for myself. It shows the first-class type of organization that this is and the appreciation from this organization for you. And I couldn't put it into words.

"Paul and I were joking before the game, who was going to tear up and drop a tear. I had lumps in my throat. I kept them under control and I focused as much as I could on the game and not take away from it. But, man, this was over the top. I couldn't put that into words."

Boston fans delivered an extended standing ovation when Garnett and Pierce were the final two Nets players announced during pregame introductions. With 2:25 to play in the first quarter, the arena hushed in anticipation of what was about to come.

Then came a roar at the mere sight of a green No. 5 flashed on the screen. Garnett's tribute opened with a clip from "SportsCenter" detailing the trade that delivered him to Boston from the Timberwolves. After a clip of the Big Three holding up their jerseys at Garnett's introduction, highlights from his Boston tenure rolled, including his bloodied head during a game against the Lakers in 2011, his in-game pushups versus Miami from 2012, and a wild montage of chest pounds and emphatic fist pumps. The video closed with Garnett kneeling to kiss the parquet floor and him screaming, "Anything is possible!" after the Celtics' Game 6 victory over the Lakers delivered Banner 17 in 2008.

[+] EnlargeKevin Garnett
Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY SportsKevin Garnett sealed the Nets' win with a breakaway layup after picking off a pass.

As the crowd delivered another standing ovation, the camera cut to a banner with retired jersey numbers with a couple open spots at the bottom -- spots that eventually will house Garnett's No. 5 and Pierce's No. 34. But Garnett was already back in the huddle at that point, barking at teammates while trying to power through his emotions.

The cameras cut back to Garnett as play resumed on the court and, after a couple of deep breaths, Garnett smiled and appeared to tell teammates he had been on the verge of losing it.

In the days leading up to Sunday's game, Garnett pledged to keep his focus on the game and he lived up to that promise. The Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter, trimming a 12-point deficit to three, and had a chance to tie the game with less than 30 seconds to play. With Rondo dribbling in a late-clock situation, Garnett cheated off his man to double the ball and managed to intercept a pass intended for Brandon Bass.

The 37-year-old Garnett, 18-plus years of NBA mileage on his tires, had 70 feet to cover, but he outraced Jeff Green and Chris Johnson before delivering a layup that essentially sealed Brooklyn's 85-79 triumph, capping a perfect trip back to Boston.

"It took me two days to get the layup up; I thought I was going to get caught, but I got it still -- put the ball in front of me, and I got the layup," Garnett said. "Like Paul said, I'm glad we came here and got a win. A lot of distraction, but they were good distractions.

"It felt good to be showered and for the city to show their appreciation [and] the organization, man. You give yourself. People always say that players can be too loyal. I don't believe that. A city like Boston is worth it and tonight's the epitome of all that."

After Garnett and Pierce had reflected with reporters for 16 minutes on a memorable night, they bounded into the hall for another stroll down memory lane. A sea of familiar faces beckoned and the duo ping-ponged through the narrow hallway, posing for pictures and saying hello to old friends.

Garnett might have stayed all night if not for the team bus waiting for him. But that was probably for the best. If Garnett stayed any longer, those tears were finally going to drop.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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