- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- If the Miami Heat didn't know it already, the sight of Kevin Garnett on all fours early in the second quarter performing eight consecutive knuckle push-ups in the paint beneath the Boston basket should have told them that it was going to be tough to deliver a knockout punch against this Celtics team.
Three minutes into the second frame, Garnett spilled hard to the parquet floor trying to muscle up a shot in traffic. He writhed in pain for a moment, then rolled over and -- as if to suggest he was unfazed by the blow -- performed the push-ups as the TD Garden roared.
The Celtics force-fed Garnett early on and he responded by posting a team-high 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting with 11 rebounds to pace the Celtics to a 101-91 triumph over the Heat in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Heat lead the series, 2-1. But in a must-win Game 3, Garnett showed early on the Celtics weren't going down without a fight -- and showed off those push-ups.
"I'm getting [negative comments] about my form, but I want people to notice it was on the knuckles," Garnett said of his impromptu workout. "That's old-school. My uncle taught me to do push-ups on my knuckles. I don't know who does push-ups in here, but there's very few who do them on their knuckles, so that's some Army-Navy-type stuff. Yeah, knuckles."
At times this postseason, the Celtics have (bafflingly) gotten away from Garnett at the offensive end. Even though he was clearly the most dominant player on the floor in the team's early-round wins over Atlanta and Philadelphia, and despite the fact that Miami is thin up front, particularly in the absence of Chris Bosh, the Celtics sometimes forget to feed Garnett around the hoop.
That wasn't a problem Friday.
In fact, Celtics coach Doc Rivers instructed his ball handlers to simply lob the ball up near Garnett when he was on the court, hoping his size advantage could be exploited.
And it was. Often.
"We've got to keep the discipline in staying with it," admitted Rivers. "Listen, this is exhausting. You get guys grabbing you and holding you, and you're trying to roll and they're fronting you. It's exhausting. But I thought we made terrific passes in the first half. Every time Kevin rolled, one of the things we kept telling [the guards], at the end of the day, throw it up. There's nobody taller than him on the floor; throw it up in the air, Kevin will go get it."
In Games 1 and 2, Garnett put up only 10 shots inside of 5 feet, accounting for a mere 29.4 percent of his total field goal attempts. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he made just five of those attempts for a mere 10 points.
In Game 3, Garnett put up 11 shots inside of 5 feet (68.8 percent of his total attempts) and made seven for 14 points (going 4-of-5 in the first half alone). He also got to the free throw line for six attempts overall (making four).
Garnett wouldn't be denied in a must-win situation.
"Desperation game, man," he said. "I think we played like it, too."
Morning walk-throughs are supposed to be breezy and light. The object is simply to make sure no one gets hurt -- which the Celtics have sometimes failed at; just ask Paul Pierce and his sprained MCL. But from the team's brief gathering in Waltham on Friday morning, rookie Greg Stiemsma could tell Garnett was locked in.
"He's been focused since the playoffs started, but today was one of those days where you knew there wasn't going to be anybody that could really slow him down," said Stiemsma.
The Celtics had a mere four-point lead when Garnett hit the deck and performed his second-quarter push-ups. Maybe not coincidentally, Boston embarked on a 14-6 run soon after, opening a double-digit lead that it would carry into the intermission and then expand with Garnett and the starters on the floor in the third quarter.
The whole team got a bit of an energy jolt seeing Garnett busting out the push-ups.
"That's great," said Stiemsma. "We feed off that -- that energy."
For his part, Garnett fed off the crowd. He's often expressed his appreciation for the Garden faithful -- whom he adoringly calls The Jungle -- but stressed it again after the Game 3 triumph.
"We're playing at home, we have to give it all-out, and it will be out," said Garnett. "The Jungle was rocking tonight. I want to thank all the fans who came out. The f---ing Jungle was rocking tonight! I loved it. I f---ing loved it."
The pattern this postseason is undeniable. The Celtics are dominant with Garnett on the floor and vulnerable when he's not. But beyond that simple fact, they really thrive when the ball is in his hands.
In Game 3, the Celtics finished with a 58-46 edge in points in the paint, reversing an area of concern from the start of this series.
"KG is a difficult matchup for a lot of guys, period," said LeBron James, who drew the assignment of trying to slow Garnett at times in the second half. "He started off really well. I think he had 12 points in the first [half] and got them off to a good start. That's part of the reason why they had 58 points in the paint. He opened up a lot for not only himself, but for his teammates as well. And he's definitely a threat down there, and he made some huge shots."
The numbers are too much to ignore at this point. The Celtics are at their best with Garnett on the floor. And they got a monster game from him Friday while using him for only 33:49.
"His plus/minus has been incredible throughout the whole playoffs, but it's a balancing act," said Keyon Dooling. "KG needs his proper amount of rest. We don't want to push him to the limit and then he doesn't have anything in reserve. Doc has a really good balance for getting him his minutes, though he's been pushing it throughout these playoffs. He's really getting it out of the big fella. KG's a very focused individual, and he loves these kind of moments."
Yes, the Celtics pushed Garnett. He pushed back -- and up. Now Boston has a chance to push this series back to Miami knotted at 2.
They just have to keep getting the ball to Garnett.
KG and the Celtics pushed back (and up) to beat the Heat in Game 3.