Commentary

No Kevin Garnett, no chance

Celtics simply can't compete without KG's trademark defense, toughness

Updated: March 27, 2013, 1:56 AM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- After watching the New York Knicks mow down the Boston Celtics 100-85 at TD Garden on Tuesday night, it was painfully obvious what transpired for the beleaguered home team: No KG, no fun.

No chance, either.

We've been told Kevin Garnett will be gone for the next two weeks because of an injury to his ankle -- or his foot. If it sounds murky, that's because it is.

Next to Garnett's name in the box score, his malady was listed as "ankle inflammation," which appeared right above Courtney Lee, whose malady was listed as "sprained ankle," which sounds a lot better to me than "ankle inflammation."

Sprained ankle suggests just that -- an ankle that was wrenched the wrong way and needs to heal. Ankle inflammation means … what? I don't know, especially since when Garnett began experiencing discomfort, he kept talking about his foot, which is absolutely not the same thing as his ankle.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonWithout Kevin Garnett, playing the Knicks wasn't much fun for Paul Pierce and the Celtics.

KG adopts a different approach than most professional athletes when it comes to injuries. He is skeptical of surgical procedures. He is known to retreat to a hyperbaric chamber to promote healing. He abhors medication; in fact, when he encountered knee troubles four seasons ago, he objected strongly to the anti-inflammatory medication the team was prescribing.

You remember that whole ruse surrounding his knee injury, right? The "KG-is-just-resting-to-be-ready-for-the-playoffs" non-diagnosis? The one that ended up with him undergoing surgery and being done for the aforementioned postseason?

I'm not saying that's what is happening again. At least I don't think that's what I'm saying. Perhaps I'm just implying that when it comes to the Celtics, KG and injuries, we simply cannot believe anything we hear.

Maybe Garnett will spring back onto the parquet in 14 days ready to single-handedly take on the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics better hope so.

Boston admirably has stayed the course through a season-ending knee injury to Rajon Rondo and season-ending back surgery for rookie Jared Sullinger, who was the team's most productive frontcourt player aside from KG.

But this latest blow is simply too much. KG's absence, coupled with the defensive grit that Lee provides, has tipped the scales. The losing streak is at five games and could well reach six in Cleveland on Wednesday night.

How do the Celtics miss KG? Let us count the ways.

Without him, Boston is forced to play the small ball that was on display Tuesday night, which left them running up and down the floor in vain, trying to stop the Knicks from doing the same.

The Celtics are a mere shell of themselves without their last line of defense, who, spittle spewing and expletives flying, manages to keep his teammates engaged.

KG is all about intimidation. Did any of the Knickerbockers look intimidated Tuesday night? J.R. Smith attacked the rim at will. He dropped a game-high 32 points on Boston, and he didn't do it raining 3s on their heads. He did it converting in the paint.

"It feels like they didn't have any shot blockers," Smith observed. "So take it to the basket, draw fouls."

Without Garnett there to terrorize him, Carmelo Anthony was free to torture smaller opponents with his strength and size. He had an abominable shooting night (10-for-30), but followed up a number of his shortcomings with easy, uncontested putbacks. He finished with 29 points.

Asked if he missed KG out there, Anthony smiled and answered, "KG or no KG, we got a win. That's all that matters."

It was back on Jan. 7 that KG's needling caused Melo to unravel so spectacularly and completely in a loss to Boston at Madison Square Garden. That led us all to conclude that KG had not just wormed his way inside Carmelo's noggin, he'd set up a day bed, an HD TV screen and a big bowl of popcorn with the notion of camping there indefinitely.

Asked Tuesday how he felt about that, Carmelo shrugged.

"I just play ball," he said. "I don't feed into that. I like to play our game and have fun doing it."

The cause of KG and Carmelo's conflict, which left Anthony waiting for Garnett at the team bus to confront him, has never been publicly revealed. There were reports of KG making a lewd comment regarding breakfast cereal and Anthony's wife, yet Doc Rivers vehemently denied those remarks were made and blamed the rumor on an irresponsible blogger.

"Well, he's right," Anthony confirmed. "That wasn't it. It upset me because a lot of people had their own opinion on what happened, and it was the wrong opinion.

"KG and I had a chance to talk about it and we settled everything. It was good for me to get on the phone with KG and talk to him, and then spend time with him at the All-Star Game.

"As far as what happened with him and me, he crossed the line. He knows that.

"The whole NBA has been dealing with KG for years. He's going to try and mess with you. But we've talked our thing through."

When told Garnett likely would move on to another target now that they've made their peace, Melo responded, "I hope so."

In the meantime, the Knicks continue to build a convincing dossier that is pointing toward an Atlantic Division title, a title usually reserved for the Celtics.

Like the Celtics, New York is missing its top interior presence (Tyson Chandler missed his seventh game with shoulder woes), but still won both Boston tilts for the first time in nine years.

New York coach Mike Woodson revealed after the game that he never won at Boston Garden during his career (he was, in fact, 0-10 with a win in Hartford during his rookie season), so he appreciates the trend of his current club, which could well meet the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

The New York roster will include one Kenyon Martin, who signed with the Knicks last month but was sure he'd be wearing Celtics green this season.

"It was real close," Martin told me before last night's game. "Like, the deal was almost done. From what I understood, Doc wanted me and the players wanted me, but in the 11th hour …"

In the 11th hour what?

"They didn't pull the trigger," Martin said. "And I'm not talking a few days ago or even a few weeks ago. This was a couple of months ago.

"So now I'm here and I'm going to make them pay -- I'm going to make all the teams that passed on me pay."

It's hard to fathom why the Celtics passed on a guy who submitted nine points and five boards Tuesday night and whose defensive energy is precisely what is missing in Boston's lineup. Perhaps they were scared off by his creaky knees. Maybe it was the whispers out of Denver that his stay there was divisive.

Either way, they could have kicked the tires on Martin for a 10-day contract for short change. The Knicks signed K-Mart to a prorated deal that is worth less than what Boston is paying Keyon Dooling to be a "coaching consultant," a job description that has become a bit of a moot point since his friend Rondo went down.

Martin said he has put the Celtics in his rearview mirror, but noted they lack some toughness without Garnett on the floor.

"When he's there, we battle," Martin said. "His energy, his emotion, his leadership, they need that. Not just for this game -- for all the games."

It seems unfair to flog the Celtics too severely, since they are now missing five players who held starting jobs at one time or another this season: Garnett, Rondo, Sullinger, Leandro Barbosa and Lee.

But the execution needs to be better than it was Tuesday night. The effort needs to be better, too.

"Our energy is a little down," Jeff Green said. "We've just got to find a way."

Lee is expected back soon.

And KG?

Who knows?

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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